11th Circuit Upholds $2.1 Million Verdict by Initially-Confused Jury in Wright Hip Case

The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a $2.1 million judgment, excusing the initial confusion by a jury in the first bellwether trial in a multidistrict litigation involving over 500 cases about the Wright Medical Conserve “metal-on-metal” hip replacement device.

U.S. District Judge William S. Duffey Jr. of the Northern District of Georgia corrected the jury form, re-charged the jury, and ordered it to continue deliberating until it reached a final verdict on November 25, 2015, in Robyn Christiansen, v. Wright Medical Technology Inc., Case No. 16-12162.

Wright today faces 585 lawsuits over its metal-on-metal hip replacement in Wright Medical Technology, Inc., Conserve Hip Implant Products Liability Litigation.

A crunching sound

Christiansen received a Wright Conserve Hip Implant System in 2006. Six years later, she “felt and heard a crunching sound and then felt immediate, severe pain in her right hip and groin” while doing yoga. She was diagnosed with a loose and displaced acetabular cup, and forced to undergo revision surgery. During the procedure, her surgeon discovered “a metallosis reaction” in the joint around the implant.

At the trial, the jury initially filled out Question 1A incorrectly on the jury verdict form saying that the hip device was not defectively designed. Then it inconsistently awarded $662,500 in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages. The judge told the jury to go back into the jury room and “please carefully read the instructions.”

Minutes later the jury returned and said it did not understand the verdict sheet. This time the judge added to the verdict sheet instructions: “If you answered NO to Question 1A, stop [regarding defective design]. Do not complete the remainder of the form.”

Half a day later the jury said one juror was refusing to deliberate. The judge interviewed the recalcitrant juror in open court, decided that the juror was unwilling to follow the instructions, and dismissed him or her. The seven remaining jurors returned to the jury room and reached the final verdict in 30 minutes:

  • The hip device was defectively designed and unreasonably dangerous.
  • It caused the plaintiff’s harm.
  • Wright did not meet its burden to prove that the device could not be made safe.
  • Wright made a negligent misrepresentation about the device.
  • Wright’s conduct was “willful and malicious,” “intentionally fraudulent,” or “manifested a knowing and reckless indifference towards, and a disregard of, the rights of others, including Ms. Christiansen.”
  • $1.1 million in compensatory damages.
  • $10 million in punitive damages, which the judge later reduced to $1.1 million.

Wright wanted judgment

On appeal Wright argued that the court failed to grant it judgment as a matter of law based on the jury’s first verdict sheet.

The 11th Circuit rejected the idea, because under Rule 49 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure the district court has authority enter judgment, order further deliberations, or order a new trial.

“From a review of the record, the district court acted in a neutral and non-biased manner in acknowledging and addressing the inconsistent verdict,” the appeals court said.

In November 2016 Wright agreed to settle 1,292 claims in consolidated litigation in Georgia federal court and California state court for $240 million, putting an end to the majority of the suits over the implants.

Patients who had revision surgery within eight years of their original Conserve, Lineage or Dynasty hip implant are eligible for the settlement.

  • Those implanted with the Conserve Cup —  the device with the most frequent failures — can receive $170,000.
  • Those who had the metal-liner Dynasty and Lineage devices can recoup $120,000, according to a statement from the plaintiffs’ leadership counsel.

Meanwhile, Wright also faces 74 lawsuits involving fractures of its Profemur long titanium modular neck hip device. It has been marketed by MicroPort Orthopedics, Inc. of Arlington, TN, since 2013.

On June 21, 2016, MicroPort recalled its Conserve Shell, Dynasty® Metal Liner, Procotyl® Metal Liner and Lineage® Metal Liner because of “an increasing overall trend in revisions from 2009 to present, and it was found that there was a specific hazard/harm for “suspected tissue reaction to metal debris.” The potential for a patient reaction when implanted with Metal on Metal THA is a known risk for this product technology. The typical impairment of tissue reaction is reversed by revision surgery to remove the old device and replace it with a new device.”

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