Victims of early hip replacement failure are filing lawsuits against device manufacturers such as Stryker Corp. and Depuy Orthopedics over “defective” lines of artificial hip components that may put users at risk of serious complications. These include device loosening, breakage, or buildup of potentially-toxic metal particles in the immediate area around the hip implant(s) as well as throughout the patient’s bloodstream.
Will Stryker Settle Hip Implant Lawsuits?
While hip replacement complications can directly cause pain, loss of mobility, internal damage and other debilitating side effects, premature implant failures have also resulted in the need for thousands of premature hip revision surgeries, which are often riskier and more invasive than the initial implantation surgery for artificial hips.
The numbers of previous hip revision lawsuits have been so numerous that the courts elected to consolidate many of them with Multi-County or Multi-District Litigation (MCL / MDL), and after several initial trials, some companies decided to offer victims settlements rather than fighting in court. Stryker previously settled lawsuits regarding its Rejuvenate and ABG II hip systems. Will Stryker offer settlements to the latest wave of legal complaints over its V40 LFIT Cobalt-Chromium Femoral Heads?
What Is A Settlement?
When faced with a lawsuit, a defendant may choose to try and resolve the matter privately with the plaintiff(s) rather than going to trial, by offering a sum of money and / or some other form of compensation in exchange for withdrawing the legal claim.
Why Companies May Choose To Settle
Awarding settlements to injured consumers can prove expensive, especially in cases where plaintiffs have suffered considerable harm and loss, but manufacturers hit with product liability suits often have much more at stake than their financial resources. When public image is taken into account, settling can be seen to benefit both sides significantly:
- Avoid Accepting Liability. In offering a settlement, a defendant is acknowledging that the plaintiffs and future claimants may indeed have suffered injuries or loss, as well as agreeing to help alleviate pain, suffering and financial difficulties incurred by using of the product in question. However, settling is not necessarily an admission of fault or wrongdoing on behalf of the defendant, unlike a loss in trial, which is an often highly public and official demonstration of the defendant’s liability.
- Saving Time, Effort, & Expenses. Though settlement negotiations can take a considerable amount of time when the defendants and plaintiffs are having difficulties with agreeing on the settlement terms, settling is generally less expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally demanding than going to trial, for both defendants and plaintiffs. From pre-trial to verdict, the litigation process requires a lot of time and effort from everyone involved, and can be psychologically / emotionally grueling, especially for plaintiffs. This is why many judges will order plaintiffs and defendants to try first resolving their issues through a special process called “mediation” (where a neutral appointed “mediator” attempts to help the two parties come to a mutual agreement) before deciding to proceed to trial. You can learn more about the mediation process in this comprehensive guide from FindLaw.
- Limiting Negative Press. In order for large orthopedic corporations to enjoy continued national and global success, they must maintain a good reputation in the healthcare community as well as inspire trust in their target markets and the general public . Any controversy surrounding litigation, especially if a trial drags on for weeks or even months, can severely tarnish a company’s public image and ultimately lead to financial ruin.
How Does Settlement Occur?
Settlement negotiations can be initiated at anytime during the litigation process, whether it’s right after a lawsuit is first filed or while a trial is already in progress. Parties can even choose to settle after a verdict has been reached.
Bellwether Trials Can Indicate Case Strength
Often, defendants will start considering settlements if they believe they can’t win in court. But how can they gauge this? Well, for ligation involving staggering numbers of lawsuits, judges may decide to reduce the strain on the court system by sending similar cases filed in different counties or states to a single district court for pre-trial proceedings—a handling method termed Multi-County or Multi-District Litigation (MCL / MDL). And typically after pre-trial in MCL / MDL, a few cases are selected to go to trial first. These “bellwether” trials can give plaintiffs and defendants a good idea of how the rest of the cases will proceed. If the bellwether trials end up being judged in favor of the plaintiffs, then the defendants may decide it will be much better for them to attempt to settle rather than to risk losing a string of trials.
Once a defendant decides to settle, it may start reaching out to individual plaintiffs with initial offers. But when a defendant is up against a large enough number of lawsuits that settling cases individually may prove to be impractical, it’s common to set up a “global settlement” designed to efficiently resolve of the pending lawsuits as well as claims that may arise in the near future.
There’s a lot of variation in how a global settlement fund can be set up:
- Total Compensation Amount Offered. The total settlement amount can be capped at a certain amount, meaning that once the fund is depleted, there won’t be any more money added, even if additional claimants join in the future. Stryker, however, has added additional funds to its previous settlement funds.
- Minimum Number of Claims To Activate. There may be a minimum percentage of plaintiffs that must agree to the settlement terms before the defendant(s) will start giving out compensation
- Degree of Legal Rights Retained. Defendants may require plaintiffs to sign away all of their current and future legal rights to their claim before they can accept the settlement, Stryker, though, has allowed plaintiffs to retain the right to file legal action regarding future injuries.
- Distribution of Funds. The amount of compensation allotted to each claimant can be determined in a number of ways. Some defendants will offer a flat amount to all claimants, but it’s more common to increase the restitution amount for victims who suffered more injuries and / or more severe harm, and lower the amount for pre-existing conditions or lifestyle habits that could have contributed to their injuries.
Reasons Why Settlements Get Rejected
As we’ve seen, resolving a legal dispute with a settlement can save a lot of time and money for both parties. But sometimes, plaintiffs will refuse to accept a settlement and push for to go to trial instead.
A Bid For Justice
Sometimes plaintiffs choose to turn down even a hefty settlement because they want the defendant’s guilt to be publicly demonstrated. For them, the idea of holding the manufacturer fully responsible for its actions and alerting the public to the alleged wrongdoing is more important than expediently receiving compensation for their injuries. They feel that withdrawing their legal claim would be letting the company “get away” with putting consumers in danger and may possibly allow the company to harm more innocent people. Though this is an admirable sentiment, a settlement should always be carefully considered. For example, if controversy has already arisen about the alleged wrongdoing, going to trial may not necessarily help spread the word so much more–and may not be worth giving up compensation that could help you recover from your injuries and loss.
Protecting Future Legal Rights
Some defendants only offer settlements if plaintiffs agree to sign away all current and future legal rights regarding the incident in question. Indeed, experienced medical device attorneys may advise accepting such a settlement, especially in cases where the possibility of future, unforeseen injuries may still arise.
Claimants Cannot Agree
As mentioned before, many defendants will specify a minimum percentage of plaintiffs that must agree to settle before they’ll start distributing compensation. If not enough plaintiffs commit to settle, then the settlement will be considered void. Plaintiffs may choose to reject a global settlement for the previous 2 reasons we discussed, as well as others, such as dissatisfaction with the amount of compensation promised in the settlement.
Rejuvenate Cases End In $1.4 Billion Settlement
Legal observers believe that Stryker may attempt to settle lawsuits over its LFIT V40 Femoral Heads, considering that the manufacturer already settled litigation involving two of its earlier modular hip products.
Stryker’s Previous Hip Settlement
Stryker set up a global settlement program in 2014, offering a total of about $1.4 billion for hip replacement patients who needed revision surgery before November 3, 2014 due to failure of a recalled Rejuvenate or ABG II implants.
The settlement amount allotted to any one victim varied depending on the details of his/her individual case, but the terms of settlement agreement offered every eligible claimant a base amount of $300,000 — the largest minimum awarded so far in the history of hip implant litigation.