A recent decision slashing the punitive award in the first Wright Conserve hip implant bellwether trial is still a significant plaintiffs’ win, an attorney who represents plaintiffs in other medical device suits and a law professor say.
The court cut the punitive award from $10 million to $1.1 million (In re Wright Med. Tech. Inc., Conserve Hip Implant Prod. Liab. Litig. (Christiansen v. Wright Med. Tech., Inc.),N.D. Ga., MDL No. 2329, 4/5/16).
But a defense attorney, also not involved in this litigation, told Bloomberg BNA the lowered award means the evidence for punitive damages was relatively thin, given the circumstances of this case.
‘‘The judge probably saw weak evidence of punitives. Punitive damages are what plaintiffs want,’’ said Mike Kelly, who represents pharmaceutical companies in mass tort cases.
Kelly said the steep cut to punitive damages should lower expectations for the overall value of the multidistrict litigation. ‘‘Because judges give weight to a jury’s decision, for the court to strike below 3:1 dampens the expectations of plaintiffs,’’ Kelly, chairman of McCarter & English and in the firm’s Wilmington, Del., office, told Bloomberg BNA April 7.
The lower-than-allowable award ‘‘means there were reasons, other than the statutory limit, that made him reduce it,’’ said Kelly.
In finding punitive damages warranted, the court said the plaintiff presented evidence that Wright ‘‘had limited knowledge regarding the hip replacement device’s wear rate and metal ion release, or the level at which metal ion release would create health issues in the individuals implanted with the device.’’
The finding that Wright’s conduct wasn’t solely profit-motivated ‘‘also signals that the judge didn’t see a lot of compelling evidence’’ for a large punitive award, Kelly said.