Robyn Christiansen was a ski instructor at a resort in Alta, Utah for nearly 50 years. After retiring, she was implanted with the Conserve hip implant manufactured by Wright Medical Technology in April 2006.
Less than six years later, she was experiencing severe hip pain and underwent surgery. Her doctors thought they would be replacing loose components. Instead, they found evidence of severe metal poisoning and tissue necrosis. She required a complete revision surgery.
Lawyers say Wright misled her doctors into choosing their all-metal Conserve implant over safer polyethylene (plastic) or ceramic designs.
Christiansen was originally awarded $11 million by a federal jury in Atlanta, Georgia in November 2015. That amount was cut to $2.1 million after a judge decided that the punitive damage award was excessive and unconstitutional.
Wright appealed it anyway. The problem was that the jury checked a box on a form indicating that Christiansen’s implant was “not defective.” Even so, the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the $2.1 million award on March 20, 2017.
The 7-year litigation mostly wrapped up in November 2016, when Wright paid a $240 million settlement to resolve about 2,000 lawsuits involving metal-on-metal hip implants. The largest payouts went to about 1,300 people who needed surgery.
Up to $170,000 was paid to people who were injured by the Conserve Cup, the implant with the most failures. Up to $120,000 was paid to people who were injured by the Dynasty or Lineage metal liners.
Metal-on-metal hip implants were advertised as more durable than plastic or ceramic implants, ideal for younger and more physically-active patients. Many of those patients are now permanently disabled.
The problem with having a metal ball grinding into a metal socket is that particles of chromium and cobalt will rub off and accumulate in the hip. This can cause hip pain, tissue death, and failure of the implant.
Surgery to remove the implant is physically traumatic because it involves pounding a new metal stem into the top of the femur. The diseased bones may need to be cut off, resulting in lifelong disability.
Metal is also absorbed into the bloodstream. This can cause side effects all over the body, including neurological damage, hypothyroidism, and cardiomyopathy (heart damage). These conditions may not go away when the hip implant is removed.