Over 300,000 Americans undergo total hip replacement surgery every year to alleviate pain and loss of mobility resulting from hip injuries and various types of arthritis. Artificial hip devices, typically made from ceramic, plastic, or metal components, are designed to last at least 15 years after implantation. But recently, many patients have been experiencing hip orthopedic failure within just 5 years of their initial hip replacement surgery.
Forced to undergo invasive revision surgery after suffering pain and complications from displaced, prematurely worn-out, or broken hip devices, thousands of patients are now seeking legal action against major orthopedic companies such as Stryker Corp., manufacturer of the recently-recalled LFIT Anatomic CoCr V40 Femoral Head, a popular hip device component that orthopedic researchers have found to exhibit “catastrophic” failure. Plaintiffs accuse Stryker Corp. and other manufacturers of defective design and failing to properly warn the healthcare community of the possible risks of their widely-used hip implants.
With so many new lawsuits arising over Stryker hip replacements, will we see a Stryker hip class action in the near future? Perhaps, but most experienced product liability lawyers would advise hip replacement failure victims against joining a class action, as filing an individual personal injury suit generally offers greater flexibility and better chances of adequate compensation.
Class action is a type of group litigation that allows for many similar legal claims to be consolidated into one lawsuit. In a lawsuit that has been granted class action status, one or a few plaintiffs act as the “class representative(s),” and a set of criteria are established to define who is eligible to join the class action. For example, a hip replacement class action might be limited to victims who:
Usually only the lead or representative plaintiff(s) are actually listed by name in the lawsuit, but any individuals who meet the criteria are either automatically included as a “class member” unless they specifically opt out, or can easily join by contacting the lead plaintiff’s attorneys. You can learn more about the history of class action and how it works on the Cornell University Law School website.
You may have seen many print ads or TV commercials about class action lawsuits involving failed hip replacement systems. Victims are implored to seek compensation for their injuries by joining these class action suits. However, class action lawsuits generally do not offer the best chance for adequate compensation, especially for hip replacement patients who suffered severe injuries and considerable financial loss from a defective artificial hip.
When you join a class action, you entrust the outcome of your failed hip device complaint to the Class Representative(s) and their legal counsel, as they’re the only ones specifically named on the class action lawsuit and are responsible for making all the decisions for the Class. As a class member, the only way you can possibly influence the direction of the lawsuit is by contacting the Class Representative(s), but they’re under no obligation to take your concerns into consideration or even to respond to you.
This means, most likely, that you'll have virtually no say in the important details that will greatly affect you, such how much compensation the class action asks for, nor will you be included in the decision of whether or not to accept any settlements the defendants might offer in exchange for resolving the case.
Class action can result in sufficient compensation for all class members when the constituent legal claims are all very similar in nature and therefore can be easily represented by a single case. But we expect that failed hip arthroplasty litigation is likely too complicated to be adequately handled with class action, because victims have experienced such a wide range of injuries and loss from failed hip devices.
For example, a plaintiff who needed revision surgery for a failed hip implant but didn’t have many other complications would likely seek less compensation than someone who also suffered a host of additional long-term side effects from a defective hip device.
With such variation in cases, it’s easy to see how a class representative might make decisions that serve his or her own best interests, but may not necessarily lead to optical outcomes for the rest of the class members.
In class action, the lead plaintiff is given the largest share out of any damages awarded in the case, and then the rest is split up between the remaining class members according to a court decision. So even when considerable financial relief is secured in a settlement or court verdict, it’s common for many class members to be allocated only a small amount of compensation. Some class action litigants end up receiving no compensation at all.
Another potential disadvantage of class action for hip replacement plaintiffs is that participating in a hip replacement class action typically requires you to waive your right to initiate any additional legal action regarding your hip device injuries. This means that even if you ended up being dissatisfied with compensation you received (or lack thereof) in a class action, you wouldn’t be able to file your own lawsuit to try for a better outcome--you’d no longer have the legal right to do so.
These downsides of class action make filing an individual personal injury lawsuit a much better option for most patients who suffered considerable loss and injury from defective hip devices.
When you file an individual lawsuit, you and your lawyer retain control over the formulation and direction of your legal claim throughout the filing process as well as through settlement negotiations or trial proceedings.
However, in situations where many similar individual lawsuits are filed across the nation in the same time period, judges may decide to cut down the strain on the court system by handling groups of lawsuits via Multi-District Litigation (MDL).
In MDL, similar lawsuits from separate district courts are consolidated for pre-trial - that is, handled together in a single district court for any necessary procedures that need to be performed before the cases can proceed to trial. These include discovery, the process through which plaintiffs and defendants gather information from one another to later use in court.
Having a large number of cases overseen by one judge rather than a number of judges in individual state courts can make processing considerably more efficient, especially for complex litigations like hip replacement failure.
For instance, expert witnesses such as leading hip arthroplasty researchers that might be called upon by the plaintiffs or defendants would only need to make a presentation for one judge, rather than having to travel to different states to make separate presentations for each case.
Another potential advantage of handling cases via MDL is a greater chance that the assigned judge will treat the various cases fairly and consistently across the MDL. It’s easy to see how one judge, who becomes thoroughly versed in the common background shared by all the cases before making decisions, might be more likely to handle a large group of cases consistently than a number of judges who must handle cases separately, without the benefit of reviewing the pre-trial materials of similar cases from other states.
Like class action, MDL is a type of group litigation, but it proceeds very differently and doesn’t share the typical disadvantages of class action.
The legal community anticipates that the growing number of Stryker hip replacement lawsuits filed by victims over recalled” Stryker V40 Femoral heads will eventually be consolidated by MDL, just like the thousands of lawsuits that arose after Stryker recalled its Rejuvenate and ABG II Modular Hip Systems in 2012.
Settlements for lawsuits involving the recalled V40 Femoral Head models seem to be a definite possibility, especially since Stryker has chosen to settle modular hip lawsuits in the recent past.
In 2014, the manufacturer decided to create a global settlement fund in order to resolve the staggering list of lawsuits it faced over its allegedly "defective" modular hip products, as well as any future complaints from patients who underwent revision surgery for recalled Stryker artificial hip components before November 3, 2014.
According to the terms of the settlement, victims were offered $300,000 as a base amount of compensation, which could be increased depending on factors such as the age of the patient, total number of revision surgeries needed, types of complications experienced (such as infections, joint dislocations, strokes, and heart attacks) and the patient's prior health status (for example, nonsmokers get more compensation).