January 14, 2015 / 8:40 PM / 4 years ago

J&J says women being illegally solicited to join in mesh lawsuits

NEW YORK, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson said in a court filing on Wednesday that women are being illegally solicited by unknown callers trying to persuade them to sue over transvaginal mesh devices, which are the subject of more than 35,000 lawsuits against its Ethicon Inc subsidiary.

In the filing, Johnson & Johnson said it had received numerous reports from women about unsolicited phone calls from strangers who either knew their private medical details, like the fact that they had recently had surgery, or were fishing for similar information. The callers appear to be misusing private medical information protected under U.S. law, the filing said.

The filing asked U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin in the Southern District of West Virginia - who oversees federal mesh cases - to allow for an investigation of the calls. Plaintiffs should be required to offer proof they were injured by an Ethicon device, and all plaintiffs’ lawyers in the cases against Ethicon should answer questions under oath about any knowledge of direct telephone solicitation, which is prohibited by American Bar Association rules and outlawed in some states, the filing said.

The unknown callers - some of whom purported to be from Johnson & Johnson or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - told the women they could receive up to $40,000 if they filed a suit over Ethicon mesh, the filing alleged.

A lead plaintiffs’ lawyer in the litigation, Bryan Aylstock, called the motion a “baseless attempt” to avoid responsibility for the devices.

Johnson & Johnson is one of seven manufacturers facing more than 70,000 federal lawsuits before Goodwin over mesh devices, used to treat stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.

The cases have resulted in several multimillion-dollar verdicts so far against Ethicon as well as other manufacturers including Boston Scientific and C.R. Bard. The companies have denied liability.

No plaintiffs’ firms were accused of specific wrongdoing. But the filing noted that firms have spent millions of dollars on advertisements for transvaginal mesh, and stand to earn more if more clients file lawsuits that are eventually settled.

Johnson & Johnson said the calls could be a significant factor in the flood of lawsuits it has faced over mesh, which it said was considered the “gold standard” for treating stress urinary incontinence. Johnson & Johnson spokesman Ernie Knewitz said the company was “compelled to report these activities to the judge” after receiving reports from women about the calls. (Reporting by Jessica Dye, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Tom Brown)

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