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Prolene Hernia System Lawsuits Centralized in New Jersey Multicounty Litigation

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The New Jersey Supreme Court has agreed to consolidate all hernia mesh lawsuits filed throughout the state over problems with Ethicon’s Prolene Hernia System, centralizing the pretrial proceedings before one judge.

A Notice to the Bar (PDF) was issued last month, indicating that complaints filed throughout the state will all be transferred to Superior Court Judge John C. Porto in Atlantic County, as part of a multicounty litigation.

Requests to consolidate the Prolene Hernia System cases have been made twice before in 2018. However, the state supreme court rejected the requests in August 2018, and again in May 2019. However, the courts approved the creation of separate multicounty litigations for similar product liability lawsuits involving Ethicon Physiomesh in August 2018, and Ethicon Proceed mesh in May 2019, each of which have been linked to claims that design defects caused individuals to suffer painful and debilitating injuries after a hernia repair.

There are currently more than 100 Prolene hernia system lawsuits pending in New Jersey, which is where the U.S. headquarters are located for the manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson and its Ethicon subsidiary. Each of the lawsuits raise similar questions of fact and law, alleging that the Prolene hernia mesh system was defective, leading to failures, serious injuries, and often the need for revision surgery.

Centralization and consolidation of the cases before one New Jersey state court judge is designed to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and to serve the convenience of common witnesses and parties.

The New Jersey MCL process is similar to a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the federal court system, where another consolidation has been established in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, which includes all Ethicon Physiomesh lawsuits involving complications associated with that polpropylene mesh design, which was removed from the market in May 2016 due to a high rate of failures and complications.

There are currently about 2,300 Ethicon Physiomesh cases pending before U.S. District Judge Richard Story in the federal MDL, and a small group of representative cases are being prepared for early trial dates this year, which are designed to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

While the outcome of these federal “bellwether” trials will not be binding on other claims, including those filed in New Jersey state court, they may greatly influence eventual negotiations to reach hernia mesh settlements that would be necessary to avoid the need for hundreds of individual trials to be scheduled nationwide.

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