February 11, 2015 / 4:51 PM / 5 years ago

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

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson 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 source of the calls.

During a hearing last week in West Virginia, Goodwin told lawyers in the mesh cases that some recent motions have “not been helpful” in establishing the “mutual trust” needed to find a resolution to the litigation.

The filing did not elaborate on the reason for withdrawing the motion and the company didn’t return a request for comment.

Bryan Aylstock, the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer, said he was pleased with Ethicon’s decision and that both sides have “pledged to work together to attempt to put an end to any wrongful solicitations of clients.”

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 say the devices are defective and can cause painful side effects like bleeding, infection and nerve damage.

Ethicon’s Jan. 14 court motion said it had received numerous reports from women about unsolicited phone calls from strangers who either knew their private medical details 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 the calls and other dodgy solicitation tactics could be a significant factor in the flood of lawsuits it has faced over mesh, which it called 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 called the motion a delay tactic.

Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Alan Crosby

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