On March 20, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (“Appellate Court”) upheld a $2.1 million product liability judgment in favor of the plaintiff in the first bellwether trial in a multidistrict litigation involving over 500 cases concerning the Wright Medical Conserve “metal-on-metal” hip replacement device designed and manufactured by the defendant, Wright Medical Technology, Inc. (“Wright Medical”).
The plaintiff had alleged that Wright Medical was liable for design defect of her hip implant based on strict liability and negligence. The plaintiff’s claims included fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, and fraudulent concealment related to the hip replacement device. The plaintiff contended that metal debris from the hip replacement device had caused her physical impairment and severe pain.
The product liability jury’s initial responses on the original verdict sheet were inconsistent. The original verdict sheet instructed the jurors that if they found that there was no design defect, they were to “stop, and sign and date this form.” Nevertheless, the jury recorded on the original verdict sheet both that there was no design defect and that Wright Medical had made a negligent misrepresentation, which findings are inherently inconsistent as there is “no rational, non-speculative way to reconcile” these findings: if the jury were to find that the hip replacement device was not defectively designed, this finding would preclude further findings and require a verdict in favor of Wright Medical – the plaintiff could prevail on her negligent misrepresentation claim only if the jury first found that there was a design defect.
The district court reinstructed the jury and the jury subsequently returned its verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Judgment was initially entered in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $1,000,000 in compensatory damages and $10,000,000 in punitive damages. Wright Medical filed a post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law, or in the alternative, motion for new trial, and to amend the judgment. In response, the district court reduced the award of punitive damages to $1,100,000. The defendant appealed.
The Appellate Court stated that where the jury’s responses on the verdict sheet cannot be reconciled, the district court has the discretion to direct the jury to further consider its answers and the verdict, or order a new trial. If the jury returns two inconsistent verdicts, the trial court may resubmit the issue to them for clarification. The Appellate Court stated that it is often preferable for a district court to direct the jury to reconsider its verdict in an attempt to eliminate the inconsistency in order to avoid a new trial.
The Appellate Court held in this case that the district court acted in a neutral and non-biased manner in acknowledging and addressing the inconsistent verdict. The Appellate Court stated that any inconsistencies between the jury’s findings on the original verdict sheet and the supplemental verdict sheet can be explained by the jury’s failure to understand the verdict sheet instructions. The Appellate Court held that under these circumstances, it was not an abuse of discretion for the district court to order the jury to continue deliberating.
The Appellate Court further held that any categorical bar to liability for an unavoidably unsafe product was not available to Wright Medical under Utah law. Accordingly, the district court did not err in failing to give such an instruction to the jury and any error by the district court in instructing the jury on the unavoidably unsafe defense did not affect the result in this case because the jury found that Wright Medical had not proven the defense. Thus, the district court’s error was harmless.
Source Christiansen v. Wright Medical Technology, Inc., No. 16-12162.
If you or a family member may have a defective hip implant claim against Wright or another company, you should promptly consult with a local medical malpractice attorney in your state who may advise you with regard to your defective hip implant claim.
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