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Yet another jury has returned a multi-million dollar damage award in a vaginal mesh lawsuit, with a California trial involving problems with Ethicon’s Gynecare TVT Abbrevo resulting in a $5.7 million verdict against the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary.
The case is the latest in a series of trials held in state and federal courts, where more than 70,000 similar lawsuits are pending against Ethicon and manufacturers of other similar products, including Boston Scientific, C.R. Bard, American Medical Systems (AMS), Coloplast, Cook Medical, Neomedic and others.
While manufacturers have had some success in defending the safety of the products in a handful of cases, most of the claims that have gone before a jury so far have resulted in substantial damage awards, suggesting that vaginal mesh settlements will likely cost the companies several billion dollars.
On Thursday, a jury in Kern County, California, ordered Ethicon to pay Coleen Perry $700,000 in compensatory damages for complications with Gynecare TVT Abbrevo mesh. The jury then hit the medical device manufacturer with an additional $5 million in punitive damages, which are designed to punish Ethicon for conducting its business with malice towards Perry and other women, finding that the company knew that the TVT Abbrevo vaginal mesh caused severe complications, but failed to warn the medical community.
The decision followed three days of deliberations and is at least the fourth plaintiff victory in an Ethicon vaginal mesh lawsuit.
The verdict also comes the same week that a federal trial involving Ethicon mesh got underway in the U.S. District Court in West Virginia, where U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin is overseeing seven different multidistrict litigations (MDLs) established for cases against different manufacturers.
Vaginal Mesh Litigation
Judge Goodwin is overseeing coordinated pretrial proceedings for all federal vaginal mesh lawsuits, as the cases involve nearly identical allegations that the products used to treat pelvic organ prolapse (POP) and stress urinary incontinence (SUI) in women are defectively designed and can cause severe and deforming complications, including infections, puncturing organs and eroding through the vagina.
The MDLs were established for cases against each manufacturer to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts. However, as hundreds of cases become “trial ready”, and manufacturers continue to make little progress in settling claims, Judge Goodwin faces the prospect of remanding large numbers of lawsuits back to U.S. District courts nationwide for individual trials, which could take decades to complete.
The trial that began this week involved a complaint brought by Dianne Bellew, and is the third federal Ethicon claim to go to trial.
The allegations raised by Bellew are representative of those brought in other claims, indicating that she suffered a long list of injuries due to the defective design of the Ethicon Gynecare Prolift vaginal mesh, including mesh erosion, mesh contraction, inflammation, pain during sexual intercourse, urinary incontinence, chronic pain, and recurring prolapse of organs.
As a result of the complications, Bellew indicates that she has undergone at least four operations to have the mesh removed.
While the outcome of this case and other early trials are not be binding on other cases in the vaginal mesh litigation, they are designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout other cases, potentially influencing settlement negotiations.
Judge Goodwin has previously expressed frustration with the lack of progress by other manufacturers in settling mesh cases, and recently held a two-day joint status conference, at which plaintiff leadership attorneys and representatives of each defendant with full settlement authority appeared before the Court.
Judge Goodwin has warned vaginal mesh manufacturers that if they do not settle, U.S. juries appear poised to inflict hundreds of millions, or even billions, of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages on them in thousands of cases that would overload the federal judicial system for years to come.
Only AMS has settled the majority of claims involving their products, agreeing to pay about $1.6 billion to resolve more than 20,000 claims.