February 11, 2015 / 4:45 PM / 4 years ago

J&J drops bid to probe plaintiff solicitation in mesh cases

NEW YORK, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson has dropped its request to investigate the source of what it said were illegal phone calls that may have resulted in baseless lawsuits over transvaginal mesh devices against its Ethicon Inc subsidiary.

In a court filing late Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson’s lawyers moved to withdraw a Jan. 14 motion that had asked U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin in the Southern District of West Virginia - who oversees federal mesh litigation - to allow for an investigation into the calls, as well as an inquiry into whether plaintiffs’ lawyers had knowledge of the source of the calls.

The filing did not elaborate on the reason for withdrawing the motion. Ethicon and lead counsel for the plaintiffs did not immediately return requests for comment.

Johnson & Johnson is one of seven manufacturers that together face 70,000 lawsuits before Goodwin over injuries alleged to have been caused by mesh devices, which are used to treat stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.

Plaintiffs have said that the devices are defective and can cause painful side effects like bleeding, infection and nerve damage.

Ethicon’s Jan. 14 court motion said that it had received numerous reports from women about unsolicited phone calls from strangers who either knew their private medical details, such as recent surgeries they had had, or were fishing for similar information.

The callers, some of whom purported to be from Johnson & Johnson or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, told women they could receive up to $40,000 if they filed a lawsuit, according to the court filing.

The company suggested that the calls and other dodgy solicitation tactics 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. More than 35,000 claims have been filed in state and federal court over Ethicon mesh.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers had opposed the request in a reply filed Jan. 22. While they disavowed any illegal plaintiff solicitation measures, they said that there was no evidence that fraud was tainting the mesh cases, and that J&J was trying to justify unnecessary and burdensome measures that “would grind this litigation to a screeching halt.” (Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Alan Crosby)

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