Wright Conserve Hip Lawsuit Verdict Allowed To Stand, Award Reduced To $2.1M

Following an $11 million damage award in a Wright Conserve hip replacement lawsuit late last year, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the case has determined that the verdict will stand, but has significantly reduced the amount of punitive damages awarded to punish the manufacturer of the controversial implant.

In November 2015, a Georgia jury awarded Robyn Christiansen $1 million in compensatory damages and an additional $10 million in punitive damages against the manufacturer for recklessly endangering consumers. Christiansen experienced problems with a Wright Conserve hip just six years after it was implanted, resulting in severe complications and the need for revision surgery to have it removed.

The case is one of several hundred Wright Conserve hip lawsuits pending throughout the federal court system, and was viewed as a “bellwether” trial to help gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation.

Christiansen and other plaintiffs allege that the manufacturer knew or should have known that the implants metal-on-metal design was unreasonably dangerous and defective, causing microscopic debris to be released into the body that may lead to loosening and failure of the artificial hip.

Following post-trial motions, Judge Duffey issued a 100 page order (PDF) on April 5, rejecting a motion by Wright Medical Technologies to reverse the judgement or, in the alternative, order a new trial. However, Judge Duffey did reduce the punitive damages to $1.1M in the case.

“The Court does not minimize Defendant’s culpability, or the harm Plaintiff suffered because of Defendant’s conduct,” wrote Judge Duffey in the 100 page order. “Where, as here, Defendant’s conduct, while warranting punitive damages, was not intended to harm Plaintiff or done with actual malice, but was motivated in part by a beneficial purpose [of introducing a new medical device], a ratio of twenty-two to one simply is not justified and falls outside constitutional requirements.”

Judge Duffey found that, after an objective evaluation of all the facts and what motivated Wright Medical’s conduct, $1.1M in punitive damages was “reasonable and proportionate to the amount of harm to the plaintiff and to the general damages recovered,” which is the standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wright Hip Replacement Problems

Since February 2012, all Wright Conserve cases filed throughout the federal court system have been centralized before Judge Duffey in the Northern District of Georgia as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL), which is designed to reduce duplicative discovery into similar issues presented in the cases, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

While the jury findings in the Christiansen case is not binding on other claims, Judge Duffey’s finding that punitive damages are warranted could forecast big problems for Wright Medical if other juries react similarly to the documents and testimony surrounding the development and sale of the Conserve Hip. If other juries return punitive damages on top of compensatory damage awards, the total liability facing the company could be substantial.

Most of the lawsuits claim that the Wright Conserve hip’s metal “ball” and “socket” bearings generate metal debris over time, which can spread to the surrounding bone and tissue. As a result of the defective design, individuals who receive the Wright Conserve may suffer unnecessary pain and suffering, debilitating lack of mobility, inflammation causing damage or death to surrounding tissue and bone, metallosis and toxicity.

In addition, the problems often result in more difficult revision surgery to replace the implant, causing additional pain and suffering, a prolonged recovery time and an increased risk of complications, according to the complaints.

Similar allegations were raised in nearly 12,000 DePuy ASR hip lawsuits were filed against Johnson & Johnson after their metal-on-metal implant was recalled in August 2010. Following several bellwether trials, the manufacturer ultimately agreed to pay more than $2.4 billion to settle the DePuy ASR litigation.

There are still thousands of other claims pending involve different metal-on-metal hip designs, including at least 8,000 Depuy Pinnacle hip lawsuits pending throughout the federal court system. In addition, as hip replacement lawyers continue to review and file claims for individuals who experience problems with loosening or failure of metal hips, additional claims are expected.

 

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