ATLANTIC CITY, NJ—A South Dakota victim of pelvic mesh implants made by city-based Johnson & Johnson (J&J) was awarded $11.1 million by a New Jersey jury this week.
The woman says she has undergone 18 revision surgeries – all without success – to correct injuries caused by a J&J Gynecare Prolift mesh device implanted in 2006.
The trial, certain to become a pacesetter since 5,956 other suits against J&Js Ethicon unit have been filed in New Jersey, represents the first vaginal mesh case in the country to go to trial against J&J and Ethicon.
The first suits were filed in 2008, shortly before the federal Food and Drug Administration first announced that complications were being reported.
Attorneys representing J&J fought to destroy the verdict, which was reached after five days of deliberation. The case originally began in 2008 with various stages of litigation before the final decision. Jurors were encouraged to punish J&J, with total assets of $121.3 billion.
In a 7-2 vote, the jury found that "Ethicon failed to warn Gross’ doctor about possible side effects and made fraudulent misrepresentations to Gross," reported David Gialanella, in the New Jersey Law Journal.
"The jury unanimously found no cause of action on Gross’ defective-design claim and voted 7-2 that there was no cause of action on a fraudulent misrepresentation claim as to Gross’ doctor."
The jury’s compensatory damages award was made up of $1.1 million for pain and suffering, $1 million for future medical expenses, $500,000 for future lost wages, $385,000 for past medical expenses, $180,000 for past lost wages, and $185,000 for a per quod claim.”
The Atlantic County Superior Court Judge, Carol Higbee, denied motions by Ethicon for a new trial and judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
In court, she said that the evidence was strong and supported the plaintiff’s position, based on evidence.
"The defentdant knew about this problem… Their own doctors were warning them about this problem," Higbee was quoted as saying.
Additionally, the judge declined to reduce J&J’s request to reduce the punitive damages total.
“It could have been a $15 million award and still fit under the parameters,” she stated.
The plaintiff’s counsel, Adam Slater of the Roseland-based law firm Mazie Slater Katz & Freeman said that even more evidence has cropped up in medical literature, and through court depositions, since this trial was held.
“Linda Gross cannot turn back the clock and make her misery and pain disappear,” Mazie Slater argued at trial, according to the Wisconsin Law Journal.
“But she and countless victims like her can take some comfort in knowing that a jury of six women and three men decided after long and serious deliberations that the corporations responsible for their suffering should be severely punished financially.”
Meanwhile, J&J leaders tried to focus on strong second-quarter sales on a conference call held Tuesday, the same day they lost in court.
In the conference call, J&J CEO Alex Gorsky highlighted the prescription drug unit, calling it very strong and “driven by new innovative products that are clearly addressing the unmet needs of patients worldwide.” He added, “by any measure, our performance has been outstanding in this segment.”
However, medical device sales increased only slightly, up 0.7 percent to $7.24 billion.
As we reported, J&J’s April annual shareholder meeting drew a protest as several tranvaginal mesh lawsuit plaintiffs stood outside the company's New Brunswick headquarters to speak out against pelvic mesh implants manufactured by the Ethicon division.
Late last year, lawyers contended that officials of J&J’s Ethicon unit, destroyed or misplaced hundreds of thousands of documents, over a decade, related to its vaginal-mesh implants.
Officials disposed of the documents thereby ignoring management’s orders not to destroy them, and thus made it harder for the women to tell their stories during the critical first trial, that took place early last year, over vaginal-mesh implants.
Gorsky is the current Chairman and CEO of J&J and was named head of Ethicon in 2008 before most of the documents were destroyed. He continues to oversee the Ethicon unit and has advanced within the company.
Recently the FDA said vaginal mesh inserts should be subject to stricter safety requirements since they amount to high-risk devices.
Last month, women from across the country who have been seriously injured by, are experiencing personal health problems, or have incurred costs resulting from pelvic mesh implants formally asked their state's Attorneys General to investigate J&J for deceptive business practices.
“Across New York, women are being hurt by Johnson & Johnson’s dangerous products, and the company’s top executive, CEO Alex Gorsky, needs to be held accountable for the women he has hurt,” stated Jane Akre, who has been organizing survivors of pelvic mesh implants for more than five years.
“Pelvic mesh implants are perhaps the most dangerous product to women’s health on the market today. Gorsky should immediately pull pelvic mesh off the market.”
More than 70,000 separate lawsuits have been filed against manufacturers of pelvic mesh implants. J&J has tens of thousands of lawsuits pending.
Johnson & Johnson is not the only company facing lawsuits for faulty vaginal mesh products.
Endo International, another major-medical device manufacturer, said last month it has agreed to pay $830 million to resolve claims from women who say they were injured by transvaginal mesh devices.
Endo said in a statement that the agreement will cover what it called a substantial majority of the mesh litigation brought against its American Medical Systems subsidiary (AMS).
“Endo did not admit liability or fault. As of Feb. 20, Endo and AMS together faced approximately 22,000 lawsuits over the devices, according to Endo's most recent annual filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission,” reported Reuters News.
“Endo agreed last year to pay $54.5 million to settle an undisclosed number of mesh cases.”