By Dave Warner
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. Feb 25 A jury on Monday
said Johnson & Johnson should pay a South Dakota woman
$3.35 million for failing to adequately warn her doctor of the
potential dangers of a vaginal mesh implant made by the
company's Ethicon subsidiary, and for misrepresenting the
product in brochures.
It was the first verdict among some 1,800 vaginal mesh cases
pending in New Jersey against Ethicon and J&J and could have an
impact on thousands of lawsuits against other manufacturers of
The lawsuit, in state Superior Court in Atlantic City, New
Jersey, was brought by Linda Gross, 47, of Watertown, South
Dakota, in November 2008. It alleged that the Gyncare Prolift
vaginal mesh was not safe and that J&J and Ethicon were liable,
among other things, for "their defective design, manufacture,
warnings and instructions."
The Ethicon product, before being taken off the U.S. market
last year, was used to treat pelvic organ collapse, a condition
for which the plaintiff, a nurse, was treated in November 2008.
That condition occurs when tissue that holds the pelvic
organs in place is weak or stretched and bulges into the vagina.
There are different types of this prolapse condition, which
usually occurs after menopause, childbirth or a hysterectomy.
The vaginal mesh was also used by many doctors to treat a severe
form of urinary incontinence, called stress incontinence.
Gross, a nurse, filed her lawsuit after having surgery in
2006 to install a Gyncare Prolift for pelvic prolapse. She
alleged the surgery led to a variety of problems, including mesh
erosion, scar tissue, inflammation and "neurologic compromise to
... structures and tissue."
She said she had to seek medical treatment and had 18
operations to repair the damage caused by the mesh.
Ben Anderson, a member of the trail team for the plaintiff,
called the jury verdict "a strong statement to Johnson & Johnson
and Ethicon that they cannot put profits before women's safety."
The verdict, by a panel of six women and three men, followed
a six-week trial before Judge Carol Higbee. After the verdict
was delivered, the judge ruled that she will allow arguments on
punitive damages. Those hearings are scheduled for Tuesday at
Sheri Woodruff, a spokeswoman for Ethicon, said, "While we
are always concerned when a patient experiences medical
conditions like those suffered by the plaintiff, all surgeries
for pelvic organ prolapse present risks of complications."
She said she could not comment further.
In addition to the lawsuits against Ethicon and J&J in New
Jersey, about 11,000 other claims have been filed against a
variety of manufacturers of vaginal mesh, according to Florida
attorney Bryan Aylstock.
Those claims have been consolidated into five cases that are
pending in federal court in West Virginia, according to
Aylstock, co-lead counsel in one of the West Virginia cases.
The defendants in those cases are Ethicon, C.R. Bard Inc
, Boston Scientific Corp, Coloplast,
and Endo Health Solutions' American Medical Systems
Last year, jurors in a state court in Bakersfield,
California, said C.R. Bard was liable for $3.6 million in the
first case over the vaginal mesh devices to go to trial. The
panel found the plaintiff and her husband were entitled to a
total of $5.5 million for her medical expenses, pain, suffering
and other damages resulting from Bard's Avaulta Plus device.
Last June, J&J announced that it had stopped selling the
vaginal mesh following lawsuits that allege it caused infections
and bleeding. On Monday, the company said there were 4,000
lawsuits against J&J involving the vaginal mesh product pending
in the United States.
Morningstar analyst Damien Conover said plaintiff attorneys
generally pick a particularly strong case to argue first and
that the judgment against J&J was sizable. But, he added that
subsequent plaintiffs' cases coming to trial might be less
forceful, and that J&J, with annual revenue approaching $70
billion, could easily withstand eventual financial hits from the
"The size of the caseload presents a significant legal risk
to J&J, although it's hard to quantify," Conover said.
Conover said J&J has taken recent charges of more than $4
billion for recalls of defective artificial hips, without badly
denting the company's share price. He said charges are likely to
be considerably less for the vaginal mesh litigation, "So I
don't think this is a big overhang" for the company.
J&J shares closed down 0.89 percent, or 68 cents, at $75.57
on the New York Stock Exchange.
The case is Gross v. Gynecare Inc., Superior Court of
Atlantic County, New Jersey, Atl-L-6966-10.