by Jahna Berry
The settlement checks are in the mail.
On Friday, Sulzer Orthopedics Inc., the company that was mired in national litigation over thousands of recalled hip and knee implants, approved a $1 billion settlement. The announcement means that many patients and lawyers will begin to get payments from Sulzer some time before the end of the year, a lawyer said.
Typically, a person who had one surgery to replace a bad implant would get $260,000, plus medical expenses. His or her attorney would get more than $40,000 in fees out of the patients’ gross award.
As the litigation neared its conclusion there was widespread fear that the deal would fall apart if many of the rank and file plaintiffs decided to try their luck in trial. Lead plaintiff attorneys warned that too many opt-outs would force the company under — narrowing the chance that all patients would be compensated.
“It was a real nail-biter,” said Orinda attorney Luke Ellis (Gillin, Jacobson, Ellis & Larsen), who represented 35 plaintiffs. “It went down to the wire.”
In fact, at one point 132 plaintiffs opted out; 35 were patients with serious claims who could have waged deal-busting legal battles. Lawyers from the plaintiffs team worked the phones and whittled that number from 35 to 16.
A little more than 3,000 people so far have had surgery to replace the defective hip and knee implants. Sulzer has said that about 4,000 people will be covered by the agreement. Not all patients who got the implants will develop problems, and some implant recipients are medically unable to undergo surgery.
In the upcoming months, U.S. District Judge Kathleen O’Malley also will decide which plaintiffs lawyers will share in the $50 million fee award for lawyers who played a big role in the settlement.