NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawyers for thousands of women suing Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon Inc over transvaginal mesh devices are fighting back against the company’s claim that illegal phone solicitations may have resulted in baseless lawsuits.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers said in a court filing late Thursday there was “no evidence of fraud” tainting nearly 23,000 federal mesh injury lawsuits, which have been consolidated before U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin in the Southern District of West Virginia.
The filing came in response to a motion last week from Johnson & Johnson asking Goodwin to allow an investigation into whether women are being illegally solicited to join mesh litigation by unknown callers, some of whom seemed to have knowledge of private medical data. The company said it was concerned the calls may have resulted in bogus claims.
J&J has asked Goodwin to make plaintiffs offer proof they had been injured by an Ethicon device, and have their lawyers answer questions under oath about any knowledge of solicitation calls.
While strongly denouncing the “rogue call center’s shenanigans,” lead plaintiffs’ lawyers said J&J was using the calls to justify imposing unnecessary and burdensome measures that “would grind this litigation to a screeching halt.”
Lead plaintiffs’ counsel said they had raised a similar issue more than a year ago with Goodwin, after several clients told them they had received, unsolicited, a letter from a call center bearing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s logo and promising $25,000 in compensation. They turned the letter over to the judge and asked him to investigate, the filing said.
“We thought it was improper at the time, and still do,” said plaintiffs’ lawyer Henry Garrard in an email.
J&J could show no direct link between the calls and plaintiffs’ firms, the filing said. Furthermore, random sampling of the Ethicon cases last year showed that plaintiffs had all been implanted with mesh, although a handful had mistakenly identified the maker of their device, the filing said.
Ethicon spokeswoman Samantha Lucas said the company was still reviewing the filing.
“Based on the reports we received, we were compelled to report these activities to the judge,” she said in a statement.
Ethicon is one of seven companies that collectively face more than 70,000 suits before Goodwin over transvaginal mesh devices, used to treat stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. Women claim the devices were defective, resulting in painful complications like infection, nerve damage and bleeding.
Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and David Gregorio