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As a growing number of other manufacturers continue to reach vaginal mesh settlements to resolve lawsuits involving their products, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the federal litigation has ordered that 200 of the oldest complaints filed against Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon subsidiary be prepared for trial by early next year.
More than 70,000 product liability lawsuits have been filed by women throughout the U.S. who have experienced complications from vaginal mesh products manufactured by several different companies, including Ethicon, Boston Scientific, C.R. Bard, American Medical Systems (AMS) and others.
According to allegations raised in the complaints, transvaginal mesh and bladder sling products implanted in recent years for repair of pelvic organ prolapse (POP) and female stress urinary incontinence (SUI) have been linked to problems where the mesh may erode through the vagina, shift out of position or cause other painful and debilitating injuries.
Following a number of bellwether trials where juries returned multi-million dollar damage awards against the manufacturers for selling a defective and unreasonably dangerous product, many of the major manufacturers are making progress towards settling large groups of cases. However, Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon unit continues to face nearly 30,000 lawsuits over their Gynecare mesh products and has not announced any large settlements to resolve claims.
In a pretrial order (PDF) issued on August 19, U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin, who is presiding over the vaginal mesh litigation centralized in the Southern District of West Virginia, ordered that case-specific discovery be completed in a group of the 200 oldest cases that name only Ethicon, Inc., Ethicon LLC and/or Johnson & Johnson as a defendant.
Discovery in the cases must be completed within the next six months, with dispositive motions and challenges to the admissibility of expert testimony filed in March 2016.
At the conclusion of these pretrial proceedings, Judge Goodwin indicates that he will transfer cases back to the U.S. District Court where they would have originally been filed, which will likely result in the scheduling of multiple simultaneous trial dates in courts throughout the country. For cases that can be tried in Judge Goodwin’s court in the Southern District of West Virginia, they will be deemed “trial-ready” when discovery is complete and the court has ruled on the pre-trial motions.
Judge Goodwin has previously expressed frustration over the pace of negotiations with many manufacturers, suggesting that some they may face substantial liability if each case goes before a jury.
In October 2014, Endo International was the first manufacturer to announce a settlement that resolved “substantially all” of the cases involving their products, reportedly agreeing to pay about $1.6 billion to settle all AMS mesh lawsuits. Since then, large groups of Boston Scientific mesh settlements and Bard mesh settlements have been announced, as those manufacturers continue to negotiate with different groups of plaintiffs’ law firms.