Wright Medical slapped with $11M verdict in bellwether case over metal hip implant

Wright Medical ($WMGI) was dealt a stinging blow in its courtroom battle over its metal hip implant devices, as a jury awarded a plaintiff $11 million in a bellwether trial over the products.

An Atlanta jury found after a two-week trial and three days of deliberations that the plaintiff had a defective hip implant and that Wright misrepresented the device's safety, Lawyers and Settlements reports. The $11 million verdict, which includes $1 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages, marks an early loss for Wright in federal multidistrict litigation over its implants. The Amsterdam-based devicemaker still faces hundreds of cases filed before U.S. District Judge William Duffey in the Northern District of Georgia, according to the Reuters story.

The legal drama dates back to 2013, when Robyn Christiansen, a former ski instructor from Utah, filed suit against Wright claiming that her Conserve hip implant came loose and caused tissue damage. Christiansen got the implant in 2006 after talking to her doctor and considering information provided by Wright, which said that the company's metal-on-metal device was better than implants made with a polyethylene lining and that it would last longer, Lawyers and Settlements reports.

Six years later, Christiansen started having severe pain in her right hip. When she had corrective surgery, the doctor found that surrounding soft tissue was damaged by metal debris from the hip implant, prompting Christiansen to sue Wright over the implant.

"This verdict confirms the viability and effectiveness of our civil jury system," Christiansen's attorney Mike McGlamry said in a statement. "We appreciate the hard work of the court and the jury in coming to this resolution."

Wright Medical CEO Robert Palmisano

The verdict comes at a transitional moment for Wright, as it tries to keep up the positive momentum a couple months after closing its $3.3 billion inversion deal for Netherlands-based Tornier. Following years of struggles and regulatory woes, Wright announced last year that it would merge with Tornier to create a midsized company devoted to fast-growing areas in orthopedics, including upper extremities, lower extremities and biologics.

"Together, we will have one of the most comprehensive upper and lower extremity product portfolios in the market, extending our leadership position and further accelerating our growth opportunities and path to profitability, all of which we believe will generate long-term value for our shareholders," Wright CEO Robert Palmisano said at the time.

In the meantime, Wright is focusing on building its foot and ankle portfolio to eke out more growth. The company took a step in that direction recently after winning the FDA's PMA approval for its Augment Bone Graft system, a device that offers an alternative to autograft for ankle or hind-foot fusions. Wright expects $10 to $12 million in sales for the product during the first 7 or 8 months after approval, the company said in September.

- read the Lawyers and Settlements story
- here's the Reuters article
- get the statement from Christiansen's attorneys