The first federal bellwether trial involving the Wright Conserve metal hip implant ended with a damage award $11 million for the plaintiff.
Court documents reveal that a Georgia jury returned the $11 million verdict against Wright Medical Technology. Ten million dollars was punitive damages and the remaining $1 million was compensatory damages. More than 500 similar lawsuits are pending in a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL).
The two-week trial concluded on November 24, 2015. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a woman who was implanted with the Conserve hip, a metal-on-metal hip replacement device, in 2006. She was later diagnosed with a loosened and displaced acetabular cup and she underwent additional surgery in 2012. The lawsuit alleged that during the second surgery the surgeon discovered signs of metallosis (metal poisoning), which was causing soft tissue damage. The lawsuit alleged that the Conserve hip was defectively designed and that the company failed to warn surgeons and patients about the risks associated with the device.
In the pending lawsuits in the federal MDL, plaintiffs allege that the metal-on-metal design of the Wright hip implant devices caused complications including pain, swelling, tissue damage, device loosening, metallosis, hip dislocation, and other injuries. A number of recipients of the Conserve hips underwent revision surgery to remove the defective implant and replace it with a different device.
Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against makers metal hip device makers, including Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Orthopaedics and Stryker Orthopaedics. Metal-on-metal hip implants have come under increasing scrutiny because of mounting injury reports and growing evidence in the medical literature of the risk of adverse reactions. Serious complications can arise when the metal surfaces of the hip implant rub together during normal activities, such as walking. Metal-on-metal hip devices have shown higher than expected early failure rates and many have been removed from the market.
The Georgia case was a bellwether trial—a case representative of similar claims brought by a number of other plaintiffs. To manage a large caseload of similar cases, the parties choose representative cases to be the first to go to trial. The results of the bellwether cases can indicate trends in the litigation. Bellwether cases often provide the basis for reaching a settlement in other cases. The verdict in the Georgia case could have “a powerful impact on the remaining cases,” according to an attorney involved in metal-on-metal hip device litigation.
Another Wright hip device, the Wright Profemur Hip Replacement System, has also been the subject of litigation. The first Profemur trial concluded in June 2015 with a $4.5 million award; the jury found the device to be defectively designed. The award consisted of $4 million for past and future pain and suffering for the man who had received the Profemur hip, and $500,000 to his wife.