Wright Medical (NSDQ:WMGI) dodged most, but not all charges in a pair of lawsuits over its Profemur metal-on-metal hips after judges in separate cases ruled to dismiss some claims brought by patients with allegedly defective implants.
That may be good news for the company’s Profemur line, which was recently revealed as the target of a subpoena.
In August the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee requested records relating to the suite of metal hip implants for a period of more than 10 years. The company said at the time that it was gathering the required data to satisfy the probe.
Late last month Judge David Ebel of the U.S. District Court for Colorado ruled against certain claims made by patient Glenn Wollam and his wife Bonnie Schoenstein, granting Wright’s motion to dismiss some allegations on the grounds that the plaintiffs failed to present evidence that Wollam’s Profemur hip implant was "unreasonably dangerous."
Wollam received 2 Profemur Total Hip System implants to replace both his right and left hips. Less than 4 years after the procedure, the neck of Wollam’s right artificial hip broke into pieces and needed to be replaced.
The plaintiff’s argument rested partially on the argument that the right hip must have been defective based on its short life compared to Wollam’s other hip.
"While there is no physical direct evidence that the Profemur neck implanted in plaintiff’s right hip was defectively manufactured, if there are not defects in manufacture, then why, when identical modular necks are subjected to the identical tests or in vivo use, does one fracture and the other does not?" according to the plaintiff’s complaint.
The judge ruled that the argument was "insufficient" to support a finding that the implant was poorly manufactured, but upheld a liability design defect claim accusing Wright of inappropriately using a titanium neck for the hip system when a cobalt chrome material would have made for a strong implant.
"Evidence suggests that a cobalt chrome neck could have endured greater wear and tear than the titanium hip implanted in Wollam and would have significantly decreased the possibility of fracturing," according to the judge’s decision. "This evidence is sufficient to permit a jury to conduct the required cost-benefit analysis in determining whether the titanium neck was in defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user."
In a separate case filed in Arizona, District Judge David Campbell upheld patient Virgina Welch’s charges of liability for design defects over a Profemur Z hip implant that twisted about 90 degrees clockwise less than 3 years after implant.
Campbell dismissed a "failure to warn" claim, but upheld the liability allegations and left the case open for potential punitive damages on the grounds that the "plaintiff clearly has pled a design defect claim. The facts that must be proved to establish that claim … need not be pled in every detail in the complaint."
The plaintiff has until later this month to file an amended claim, according to court documents.