“New Jersey State Court Opens Ethicon Hernia Mesh Consolidation”
Mark A. York (April 17, 2018)
(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) Ethicon’s Pelvic Repair System litigation also known as Transvaginal Mesh (TVM) litigation, (see Mass Tort Nexus Ethicon TVM MDL 2327 Briefcase) and the more recent hernia mesh legal filings, are the latest in a series of ongoing legal battles facing Johnson & Johnson and its Ethicon subsidiary. Ethicon is facing over 50,000 mesh lawsuits in state and federal courts across the country where plaintiffs have filed suits over their synthetic mesh surgical implants. The numbers are increasing daily as the TVM plaintiffs are being joined by plaintiffs filing “hernia mesh” lawsuits, where the allegations are very similar to claims asserting that J&J’s failed to warn and choosing to ignore the thousands of FDA filed adverse events related to its hernia mesh products.
EMERGING NEW JERSEY STATE COURT ETHICON MESH CONSOLIDATION
Ethicon now faces a home state hernia mesh legal battle as the New Jersey Supreme Court posted the Application for Multicounty Litigation (MCL) status on April 11, 2018 regarding the emerging Ethicon/J&J multi-layered hernia mesh products litigation pending in New Jersey state courts. The filing requests the Ethicon hernia mesh cases be consolidated in Bergen County in front of Judge Rachell Harz, over litigation related to Ethicon’s Proceed, Physiomesh and Prolene synthetic hernia mesh products. For information regarding the New Jersey Ethicon Hernia Mesh Litigation see Mass Tort Nexus Briefcase Re: Ethicon Hernia Mesh New Jersey State Court Consolidation, adding another docket of mesh cases to the ever growing J&J/Ethicon defense of its synthetic surgical mesh products.
Ethicon TVM litigation has been underway for close to six years in MDL 2327, (MDL No. 2327 | In Re Ethicon, Inc., Pelvic Repair System Products Liability Litigation court link) currently pending in the U.S. District Court in West Virginia, where U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin is also overseeing seven other multidistrict litigations (MDLs) established for cases against different manufacturers. When you add in other synthetic mesh manufacturer lawsuits besides J&J, there are more than 100,000 mesh lawsuits pending against Ethicon and other manufacturers, including Boston Scientific, C.R. Bard, American Medical Systems (AMS) acquired by Endo, Coloplast, Cook Medical, Neomedic and others.
Judge Goodwin has previously expressed his frustration with the parties not engaging in substantive settlements discussions to resolve the thousands of cases, the one option he has is to begin remanding cases back for trial in court venues around the country, possibly forcing both sides to begin earnest settlement talks. Goodwin has held hearings with leadership attorneys from both sides appearing before the court to possibly kickstart settlements He has gone so far as to warn 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 American Medical Systems, Inc has resolved substantially all of their claims over their mesh products, agreeing to pay about $1.6 billion to resolve more than 20,000 claims.
PRIOR MESH SETTLEMENTS
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 TVM settlements will likely cost the companies several billion dollars. There have been settlements by some mesh makers including End International, Inc. on behalf of American Medical Systems, Inc, where Endo agreed to pay $775 million in August 2017 to resolve the remaining cases, where there had been over 22,000 lawsuits filed over its vaginal mesh implants. They had previously agreed to a $400 million settlement of more than 10,000 mesh lawsuits (~$48,000 per case) in October 2014. This has been part of Endo’s decision to exit “substantially all” the remaining lawsuits against its AMS unit, with the $400 million being in addition to $1.2 billion previously pledged by Endo to cover mesh litigation. Including its $830 million settlement to resolve thousands of mesh lawsuits (~40,000 per case) in May 2014. That settlement came a day after the FDA said transvaginal mesh should be reclassified as a high-risk medical device and subject to stronger regulatory scrutiny.
ETHICON TRIAL VERDICTS
Although Ethicon attempts to defer blame and causation for the often life altering medical conditions that occur post mesh implant surgery, they are often found liable at trial with verdicts being anywhere from $1.5 million to more than $100 million and often include major punitive damages. The punitive damages, which are designed to punish Ethicon for conducting its business with malice towards women who were implanted with the products, finding that the company knew that the synthetic mesh products caused severe complications, but failed to warn the medical community.
With Ethicon (Johnson & Johnson) facing more vaginal mesh lawsuits than any other manufacturer. Here are trial verdicts from lawsuits that have resulted in major losses for Ethicon/J&J again and again:
- In March 2018, a jury in Indiana awarded $35 millionto Barbara and Anton Kaiser. They’d sued Ethicon (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) after Barbara Kaiser’s Prolift mesh allegedly caused her pelvic pain. They awarded her $10 million in damages and hit Ethicon with $25 million in punitive damages.
- In December 2017, a Bergen County, NJ jury awarded$15 million to Elizabeth Hrymoc. Ms. Hrymoc said she received a defective Prolift mesh implant in 2008, which left her in such pain that she had to have it removed and replaced. She cried as the jury announced their verdict.
- In September 2017, a Philadelphia jury awarded $57.1 millionto Ella Ebaugh, who says she suffered chronic pain and incontinence because of two Ethicon pelvic mesh implants that eroded into her urethra. Ms. Ebaugh says she required three surgeries to remove the mesh. Ethicon vowed to appeal.
- In April 2017, a Philadelphia jury awarded $20 millionto a woman who claimed she was in constant pain because of her TVT-Secur transvaginal mesh, a product of Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Ethicon. A spokesperson for Ethicon said the company would appeal the decision, but it was the fifth major loss over the mesh products since 2014.
- $13.5 million verdict awarded to Sharon Carlino of New Jersey in February 2016. According to the lawsuit, Carlino received Ethicon’s transvaginal tape (TVT) for stress urinary incontinence and it left her with constant pain and discomfort. Two surgical attempts to fix the device did not rid her of pain. $10 million of the verdict came in the form of punitive damages. The jury said that Carlino’s doctor would not have used the Ethicon mesh had the device risks been known.
- $4.4 million jury award to Florida resident Tessa Taylor in February 2016. The jury found that ObTape sling (made by J&J subsidiary Mentor) caused Taylor’s back pain, bladder pain, and difficulty urinating over a 7 year period. Taylor received the mesh to treat urinary incontinence, but she was re-diagnosed with the condition in spite of the device. $4 million of the verdict was for punitive damages to “discourage others from behaving in a similar way.”
- J&J agreed to pay $120 million to settle 2,000-3,000 mesh lawsuitsin January 2016. The settlement marked the first serious attempt by J&J to settle a significant number of mesh lawsuits. A regulatory filing at the time showed that J&J still faced more than 42,000 mesh cases.
- $12.5 millionverdict awarded to Indiana resident Patricia Hammons, including $7 million in punitive damages. Hammons was implanted with Ethicon’s Prolift device, which she says caused severe pain, sexual difficulties, and incontinence–even after corrective surgery.
- $5 millionsettlement reached in September with plaintiff Pamela Wicker, implanted with Ethicon’s Prolift mesh device. Wicker claims that Prolift eroded inside of her and necessitated numerous surgeries to remove the device. A law professor said that the large settlement showed the costs of dealing with mesh litigation would be a lot higher than expected.
- $5.7 millionverdict awarded to Coleen Perry in March 2015 by a California jury. Perry was implanted with the J&J/Ethicon TVT Abbrevo and says she expects to have pain the rest of her life. The jury found that the TVT Abbrevo has design problems and that Ethicon failed to warn about potential health risks. The verdict included $5 million in punitive damages for conduct that amounted to “malice.”
- Two confidential settlementsinvolving 115 mesh victims were reached in January 2015. One of the settlements resolved 4 cases in Missouri over Ethicon’s Prolift mesh device and the other resolved 111 cases in Georgia over the ObTape Transobturator Sling (made by J&J subsidiary Mentor). The Missouri women claimed that the mesh in Ethicon’s Prolift insert shrinks and damages organs, causing constant pain and making sexual intercourse difficult, while the Georgia women alleged that ObTape causes permanent injuries.
- $3.25 millionverdict awarded to plaintiff Jo Husky over the J&J/Ethicon Gynecare TVT-O mesh device. The verdict was reached by a West Virginia jury in September 2014 following a two-week trial. Jurors found that the TVT-O was faulty and that Ethicon failed to warn of side effects.
- $1.2 millionverdict awarded to Linda Batiste, implanted with the Gynecare TVT Obturator (TVT-O) mesh sling (made by J&J unit Ethicon) in April 2013. The jury concluded that the device’s design was flawed.
- $11.1 millionverdict (including $3.35 million in compensation and $7.76 million in punitive damages) awarded to Linda Gross of South Dakota, who was implanted with J&J’s Gynecare Prolift vaginal mesh device. A New Jersey jury reached the verdict in February 2013, saying that J&J fraudulently misled Gross about device risks.
ETHICON 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.
Plaintiff complaints against Ethicon all consistently assert that Ethicon was and is aware of the dangers posed by their synthetic mesh products, and choose to ignore the thousands of adverse event reports filed with the FDA as well as the fact that more than 50,000 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits over Ethicon synthetic mesh implants. The legal claims assert injuries due to the defective design of the most every synthetic mesh product made by Ethicon regarding its 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 post surgical complications, plaintiffs have been known to undergo as many as four operations to have the mesh removed, often resulting in massive levels of pain as well as financial impact of repeated surgeries and rehabilitation. There are many instances where the the surgeons were unable to remove all the mesh due to the mesh adhesion to internal organs and surfaces within the body that were never intended as a post surgical complication.
While the outcome of the MDL cases and other trials are not binding on other cases in the vaginal mesh litigation, Ethicon and its parent Johnson & Johnson should gauge how juries have responded to certain evidence and testimony via recent major trial verdicts in most every mesh trial they’ve faced in both federal and state courts. How Ethicon counsel views the recent trial verdicts and the impact on the thousands of other cases they face, and the potential for the trial results to be repeated throughout these cases, would seem to have an impact on J&J’s views of starting substantive settlement negotiations. To date, this has not been a significant part of the Johnson & Johnson legal business strategy, potentially resulting in an ongoing windfall for the thousands of plaintiffs for years to come.