A federal jury in Atlanta awarded $11 million to plaintiff in the first bellwhether trial in a multidistrict litigation against Wright Medical Technology, Inc. for purportedly defective metal hip implants.
Not only was the device found to be defective, but jurors concluded the company deceived patients and doctors concerning the safety of these devices. The verdict In re: Wright Medical Technology Inc., Conserve Hip Implant Products Liability Litigation, includes $1 million in compensatory damages to plaintiff, plus another $10 million in punitive damages against defendant. Punitive damages are allowed in cases where there is evidence of gross negligence by a defendant, where the conduct is found to be so egregious that defendant was so reckless or wanting in care it amounted to a conscious indifference or disregard to the rights, safety and lives of others.
Plaintiff in this particular case was one of 2,000 who has thus far filed a complaint against the company and subsequently entered a tolling agreement.
Product liability attorneys recognize that decisions in bellwether cases are important because it can be an indicator of how the other cases may play out. A substantial victory in a case like this could mean fast and advantageous settlements for those with cases pending, sparing the time and expense of thousands of subsequent trials.
In choosing this particular case to move forward, plaintiff attorneys said they sought to put forth a “middle-of-the-road” case. That is, it wasn’t a a slam-dunk case for the plaintiff, but it wasn’t a strong case for the defense either. That way, attorneys on both sides have a good sense of how reasonable juries will stand on similar future cases.
A defense lawyer has indicated his client plans to appeal the decision.
Plaintiff, a former ski instructor in her 70s, underwent a hip replacement surgery in 2006. At the time, her physician told her the metal-on-metal design of the medical device in question was superior to the ones made with a type of plastic lining. That was based on information provided to the doctor by defendant.
Six years later, plaintiff began to experience extreme pain in her hip during exercise. Her doctor suspected the implant was loosening, which is a common problem with such implants. Corrective surgery was necessary to address the problem.
However, when the surgeon operated on plaintiff, he realized loosening wasn’t the problem. Rather, the soft tissue surrounding the implant was severely damaged by metal debris that had worn off the implant as it prematurely degraded.
Once an active sports enthusiast who taught skiing to children for nearly five decades, the 73-year-old plaintiff is now severely limited in her mobility, her counsel said.
The case was slated for trial after failed attempts at mediation. In the weeks prior to trial, the U.S. District judge slashed the amount of evidence that could be presented against the company. That included barring evidence of any prior lawsuits against the firm.
Wright is one of a half a dozen manufacturers of hip replacement devices that has come under fire in recent years. Others include DePuy, Stryker, Zimmer and Biomet.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Atlanta jury awards $11 million verdict in hip implant case, Nov. 27, 2015, By Bill Rankin, Atlanta Journal Constitution
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