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Only days after a state court jury hit Ethicon with a $5.7 million verdict in a vaginal mesh lawsuit in California, the medical device manufacturer decided to settle a federal bellwether trial underway in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.
According to court minutes (PDF) posted on March 6, a lawsuit filed by Diane Bellew resolved on the fifth day of trial against Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon subsidiary.
The case is one of more than 70,000 similar vaginal mesh lawsuits pending against Ethicon and other manufacturers of similar products, including Boston Scientific, C.R. Bard, American Medical Systems (AMS), Coloplast, Cook Medical, Neomedic and others.
All of the complaints involve similar allegations that design defects caused women to face painful and debilitating complications from vaginal mesh, including infections, erosion of the mesh through the vagina and other problems, which often result in the need for surgical removal.
In the federal court system, all of the cases are consolidated into different multidistrict litigations (MDLs), which are centralized before U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin for pretrial proceedings in the Southern District of West Virginia.
As part of the coordinated litigation, the Bellew case was the latest in a series of “bellwether” trials scheduled to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout other claims. While manufacturers have had limited success defending the safety of their product in a few cases, most of the claims that have gone before a jury so far have resulted in substantial damages, often including multi-million dollar punitive damage awards designed to punish the manufacturer.
While details of the agreement that resolved the Bellew case have not been released, this is the latest in a growing number of individual vaginal mesh settlements that have been reached in individual cases. However, given the large scope of the litigation, Judge Goodwin has been pushing the manufacturers and plaintiffs to increase efforts to resolve large numbers of cases.
According to the latest case list (PDF) released by the Court on February 17, Judge Goodwin is currently presiding over 10,348 Bard Avaulta mesh lawsuits, 23,523 Ethicon vaginal mesh lawsuits, 19,159 American Medical Systems (AMS) mesh lawsuits, 15,278 Boston Scientific mesh lawsuits, 1,830 Coloplast vaginal mesh lawsuits, 289 Cook Medical vaginal mesh lawsuits and 83 Neomedic vaginal mesh lawsuits.
Only AMS has settled the majority of vaginal mesh claims involving their products, agreeing to pay about $1.6 billion to resolve more than 20,000 lawsuits.
It has been suggested that if manufacturers do not start reaching large numbers of settlements in vaginal mesh cases, they may face billions of dollars in judgments from juries. In addition, given the large number of cases pending nationwide, scheduling all cases for individual trials would overload the federal judicial system and take the manufacturers decades to resolve.