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J&J to Pay $120 Million to Settle Thousands of Vaginal Mesh Lawsuits

After This, More Than 40,000 Suits Over Controversial Product Still Remain Pending
J&J Protest
A protest against Johnson & Johnson

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has made a serious move to settle thousands of lawsuits filed by women who assert they suffered injuries from vaginal mesh inserts made by its Ethicon subsidiary, according to a report from Bloomberg.

The settlement offer, said to be more than $120 million, would resolve between 2,000 to 3,000 law suits over the inserts, according to Bloomberg, which notes it is the “first big mesh settlement” for the Hub City-based medical-device manufacturer.

The “suits [allege] women suffered organ damage and were left in constant pain by mesh surgical inserts that eroded in their bodies, according to three people who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the settlement,” wrote Bloomberg.

The total amount breaks down to about $40,000 to $60,000 per case, before legal fees and outstanding debt.

"This would not even touch the expenses most of us have incurred," wrote one commenter on The Mesh Medical Device News Desk, regarding the offer. "I myself have already had 9 surgeries to date then the care for the rest of my life for the continual pain. Easy way out Johnson and Johnson!!"

"J&J needs to be charged criminally, Offering 40,000 is nothing," wrote another person, who appeared to be a victim of the company's product.

"My life as a woman is over and besides the pain, humiliation and depression I know i have to be repaired at some point.... J&J destroyed so many lives, even preyed on children.. How many more lives need to be trashed before people get a clue and shut them down. And how long will the judicial system let them make a joke of all of it.

The Ethicon unit is facing numerous product liability claims and lawsuits; the company made reference, in a regulatory filing, to the much more costly "punitive damages," which have not been barred in the vaginal mesh cases. But by offering to settle out of court, before cases go to trial, there are no chances of  punitives being awarded.

Many products are involved, and the claimants "seek substantial compensatory and, where available, punitive damages," J&J said in the filing. 

J&J said in its most recent quarterly report, for the period ending September 27, that "The number of pending product liability lawsuits continues to increase, and [J&J] continues to receive information with respect to potential costs and the anticipated number of cases."

But, “[J&J] has established an accrual with respect to product liability litigation associated with Ethicon's pelvic mesh products,” according to the filing.

It added that cases filed in U.S. federal courts are organized as mulit-district litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia (In Re Ethicon Inc. Pelvic Repair System Products Liability Litigation, docket #12-MDL-2327, U.S. District Court, Southern District of West Virginia)

Still, J&J is up against another 42,400 similar cases, according to a regulatory filing.

“It’s unclear what J&J’s exposure will be after those suits are resolved through verdicts, settlements or dismissals because average payouts will vary,” wrote Bloomberg.

“From time to time we have appropriately agreed to resolve some cases,” J&J spokesman, Ernie Knewitz, said in an e-mailed statement.

“We will not discuss the terms, nor discuss our ongoing litigation strategy."

J&J did not disclose the amount of a designated “reserve” fund, for pay-outs in the mesh cases and other product-liability claims, according to its October Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

And the company has played down the financial risk from the vaginal mesh cases, while incurring costly legal expenses.

The company says it spent “$141 million in total litigation expenses in 2015, down from $1.2 billion in 2014 legal costs and $2.2 billion in 2013,” according to the Bloomberg report. 

“J&J still has a ton of cases to deal with, but this settlement may encourage other lawyers to consider taking their offer,” Carl Tobias, a product-liability law professor, at the University of Richmond in Virginia, told Bloomberg.

"While other mesh manufacturers such as American Medical Systems and C.R. Bard have agreed to settle its outstanding product liability actions regarding pelvic mesh, J&J has not done so to date until the eve of a jury trial or, in one case, just as the case was about to go to the jury," reads a report from the Mesh Medical Device News Desk.

J&J's Ethicon unit has the most pelvic mesh cases consolidated in federal court in Charleston, West Virgiania -- more than 30,500. And that number does not include similar cases filed in: Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland and Venezuela.

Almost four years ago the company quietly removed four meshes from the market. One was the Prolift, a large mesh used to treat pelvic organ prolapse, reportedly the most difficult to remove.

The company recently announced it is restructuring its medical device division and cutting 3,000 jobs after lower than expected sales.

J&J's annual shareholders meeting will take place April 28 in New Brunswick.