Saturday, September 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

NJ jury awards woman $3.35 million in first J&J vaginal mesh verdict

An Atlantic City jury awarded a former nurse $3.35 million for what the woman said were years of severe and chronic pain despite 18 unsuccessful repair surgeries meant to fix a vaginal mesh implant made by Johnson & Johnson.

NJ jury awards woman $3.35 million in first J&J vaginal mesh verdict

Johnson and Johnson (AP Photo)
Johnson and Johnson (AP Photo)

An Atlantic City jury awarded a former nurse $3.35 million for what the woman said were years of severe and chronic pain despite 18 unsuccessful repair surgeries meant to fix a vaginal mesh implant made by Johnson & Johnson.

Read that again: 18 unsuccessful repair surgeries.

The Associated Press' Linda Johnson wrote that this was the first verdict in about 4,000 lawsuits against J&J, which is based in New Brunswick and has multiple operations around Philadelphia. Thirty-plus companies make or made the implants, which are used to lift sagging pelvic organs back into place.

The rest of the AP story is here:

The state Superior Court jury in Atlantic City awarded the compensatory damages to Linda Gross, 47, of Watertown, S.D. Her attorney said pain and other complications caused by the implant forced the former hospital hospice nurse to stop working shortly after her surgery in 2006.

The trial is to begin a second phase on Tuesday, in which the jury will consider whether to also award punitive damages. Under New Jersey law, punitive damages of up to five times the compensatory damage amount are allowed, according to the woman's legal team.

Sheri Woodruff, spokeswoman for J&J's Ethicon Surgical Care subsidiary, noted the jury did not rule against the company on all counts.

The jurors rejected a claim that J&J's former Prolift vaginal mesh implant was designed defectively. Johnson & Johnson launched Prolift in 2005 and stopped selling it last year amid mounting lawsuits.

"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," Woodruff said in a statement.

Prolapse occurs when a pelvic organ - the bladder, uterus, vagina, bowel or rectum - droops as muscles weaken due to childbirth, aging, obesity or other factors. That can cause painful intercourse, lower backache, constipation or stress incontinence, meaning bladder leakage usually triggered by coughing, sneezing, lifting heav y objects or exercise.

Mesh implants, made of a porous synthetic or biologic material, are implanted and tied to ligaments or bone to serve as a sort of sling to lift and support the organ involved.

Introduced more than a decade ago, they were touted as a safer, easier alternative to hysterectomy or other surgery. Hundreds of thousands of women had them implanted.

Thousands later complained of complications: severe pain, infections and bleeding, generally requiring follow-up surgeries to fix those problems.

The New Jersey jury deliberated for five days, capping a six-week trial before Superior Court Judge Carol E. Higbee. Following the verdict, Higbee heard arguments from attorneys on both sides as to whether a punitive phase was merited. She ruled in favor of the plaintiff late Monday.

Woodruff said Johnson & Johnson plans to present more evidence to the jury during a punitive phase.

About 1,200 of the 4,000 lawsuits alleging harm from J&J's vaginal mesh implants are pending in New Jersey.

In a statement, Gross called the jury verdict "a resounding victory" for her and tens of thousands of women seeking justice from Prolift's maker. During the trial, she described her life since getting the vaginal implant as a "living hell."

"Sadly, Linda Gross will never get back quality of life she enjoyed prior to 2006," said attorney David Mazie.

Mazie and his partner, Adam Slater, of the Mazie Slater firm in Roseland, N.J., and two other law firms represented the woman and her husband, Jeff Gross.

David Sell
About this blog
David Sell blogs about the region's pharmaceutical industry. Follow him on Facebook.

For Inquirer.com. Portions of this blog may also be found in the Inquirer's Sunday Health Section.

Reach David at dsell@phillynews.com.

David Sell
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