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Johnson &Johnson’s Vaginal-Mesh Costs May Rise If $5 Million Deal Is a Guide

J&J has yet to disclose the amount set aside to cover the risk from lawsuits brought by patients who claim they were injured by vaginal mesh implants, or how much the company has already paid to settle such cases out of court. But a settlement for $5 million dollars recently became public, offering a glance of the potential cost it could incur to settle the lawsuits.

The deal was made part of the public record when the plaintiff’s lawyer asked a judge to approve his legal fees in the suit. Even though it’s just one suit, Johnson & Johnson still faces over 46,000 similar cases, according to its regulatory filings. Judges in New Jersey and West Virginia are urging the manufacturer to resolve them.

In September, according to a court filing in Hackensack, New Jersey, the company agreed to pay $5 million to settle a lawsuit with plaintiff Pamela Wicker, who claimed the mesh maker’s Ethicon device ProLift mesh eroded inside her, making sexual intercourse painful and forcing her to undergo multiple surgeries to remove the mesh material. According to court filings, prior to this settlement, Wicker’s suit was to be the second so-called bellweather case that would help resolve the 8,700 such claims filed in New Jersey. In 2013, the first bellweather concluded with an $11.1 million dollar jury verdict against Johnson & Johnson.

The company has had a mixed verdicts in court juries in the mesh cases. It won several cases, but had lost cases in Texas, California and Pennsylvania. In February, a jury in Philadelphia awarded $13.5 million to another woman who claimed she had also been injured by the J&J Prolift device. And the New Jersey verdict for $11.1 million was upheld last month on appeal.

Cases related to vaginal-mesh implants, which reinforce sagging organs and treat incontinence, have multiplied since they began in 2011, with more than 100,000 suits filed against more than a half-dozen device manufacturers. Out of all the mesh manufacturers, Johnson & Johnson faces the most
claims, and began removing some of their product lines off the market in 2012 after the FDA ordered
several manufacturers including Johnson & Johnson, C. R. Bard Inc. and Boston Scientific to study
injury rates. While both C. R. Bard Inc. and Boston Scientific have also settled some cases, they
continue to defend their products and battle claims. To deal with mesh device suits, each company
has set aside more than $1 billion dollars.

In January, regulations were tightened by FDA officials upon finding the implants should be classified
as higher-risk products.

The Wicker case is Wicker v. Ethicon Inc., ATL-L-6951-10, Superior Court of New Jersey, Bergen County (Hackensack). The consolidated federal case is In Re Ethicon Inc. Pelvic Repair System Products Liability Litigation, 12-MDL-2327, U.S. District Court, Southern District of West Virginia (Charleston).