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As a growing number of hernia mesh lawsuits continue to be filed against Johnson & Johnson and it’s Ethicon subsidiary in New Jersey state court, each involving complications allegedly caused by the design of multi-layered patch products sold in recent years, a request has been filed to centralize the litigation before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.
On April 11, Glenn A. Grant, acting administrative director of New Jersey state courts, issued a Notice To The Bar (PDF), indicating that the state Supreme Court has received an application to create a multicounty litigation (MCL) for all product liability lawsuits over Ethicon multi-layered hernia mesh.
While the notice does not specifically identify products that would be included in the consolidated proceedings, Johnson & Johnson faces hundreds of Ethicon Physiomesh lawsuits brought on behalf of individuals nationwide, which have been filed since the multi-layered hernia repair product was removed from the market worldwide in May 2016, amid reports of early failure and complications resulting in the need for hernia revision surgery.
In the federal court system, more than 750 complaints over problems with Ethicon Physiomesh have been centralized before U.S. District Judge Richard Story in the Northern District of Georgia, as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation. The federal consolidation is designed to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues raised in the cases, avoid conflicting rulings from different courts on pretrial matters and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the judicial system.
With large numbers of cases also filed in New Jersey state court, where Johnson & Johnson’s U.S. headquarters are located, the New Jersey Supreme Court is considering whether to establish similar centralized management for the state court litigation, which is expected to continue to grow over the coming months and years, as lawyers review and file complaints for individuals who experienced complications due to the multi-layered hernia mesh design.
Ethicon Physiomesh was introduced in March 2010, featuring a multi-layered coathing, which lawsuits allege provides a breading ground for bacteria that can not be eliminated by the body’s immune system, allowing infections to develop.
In May 2016, an Ethicon hernia mesh recall was issued to remove Physiomesh from the market worldwide, after a higher-than-expected number of individuals required revision surgery due to problems with the design.
As part of the coordinated management of the litigation in the federal court system, as well as the New Jersey state court system, if an MCL is established, it is likely that a small group of “bellwether” cases will be prepared for early trial dates to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the claims. While the outcomes of these early bellwether trials will not be binding on other plaintiffs, they are likely to heavily influence negotiations to reach hernia mesh settlements and avoid the need for hundreds of individual trials.