Let’s get back to a look at recent developments with transvaginal mesh lawsuits. In two big victories recently, a Georgia jury awarded $4.4 million to a woman injured by transvaginal mesh, and a New Jersey appeals court upheld an $11.11 million dollar jury verdict.
Transvaginal mesh (TVM) is a plastic mesh product that has been implanted in women for many years to support weakened vaginal walls. Many women suffer from pelvic organ prolapse or stress urinary incontinence, and makers of TVM have insisted that TVM could repair these medical problems. Unfortunately, not long after TVM was marketed and sold, women began complaining of serious health problems, including erosion of the vaginal wall, infections, painful sex, and bladder perforation. The lawsuits followed.
Now let’s take a look at a recent jury trial and an appeal decision of an earlier jury verdict.
Taylor v. Mentor Worldwide LLC (Middle District Georgia, Columbus)
Products: Mentor ObTape Sling Pelvic Mesh
Jury Award: $4,400,000.00 ($400,000.00 compensatory damages; $4,000,000.00 in punitives)
Date of Jury Verdict: February 18, 2016
Key Takeaway: First win for injured woman against Mentor Worldwide, LLC (which is owned by Johnson & Johnson), with a substantial punitive damages award.
Teresa Taylor is from Marianna, Florida. The Mentor ObTape Sling Pelvic Mesh was implanted in her body in 2004 to treat her stress urinary incontinence. Following implant surgery she began having physical problems, including lower back pain, vaginal burning, painful sex, and incontinence. The ObTape Mesh was surgically removed in 2011. Ms. Taylor filed suit in 2012.
After a nine day trial, the Georgia jury found that Ms. Taylor had demonstrated that the ObTape had a design defect, and that Mentor Worldwide failed to warn her physician of the risks involved in using the ObTape Mesh.
The jury awarded $400,000.00 in compensatory damages (for actual injury, actual pain and suffering), and a noisy $4,000,000.00 in punitive damages.
Among other findings, the jury concluded that Mentor Worldwide was solely motivated by “unreasonable financial gain” in marketing the product. The jury also found that Mentor had intent to harm Ms. Taylor. These findings supported the punitive damages award.
Unfortunately, Florida state law caps punitive damages at $2,000,000.00.
Over 350 ObTape cases remain in the Mentor ObTape MDL. Most of these cases will be settled, but a few may still reach a jury trial.
Mentor Worldwide sold the medical devices between 2003 and 2006. Johnson & Johnson purchased Mentor Worldwide in 2009.
Unless Ms. Taylor can now work out a settlement with Mentor and Johnson & Johnson, the defendants will likely appeal the verdict in the Taylor case. I will keep you posted on these developments.
Gross v. Ethicon, Inc., et al. (New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division)
Product: Gynecare Prolift Pelvic Floor Repair System
Appeal Decision: Appellate court in New Jersey upheld jury verdict in favor of injured woman totaling $11.11 million dollars. Court refused to disturb an impressive $7,760,000.00 punitive damages award.
Date of Appeal Decision: April 1, 2016
Recap of the Jury Trial:
In 2006, the Prolift transvaginal mesh was implanted in Linda Gross to treat pelvic organ prolapse. Following implantation, Ms. Gross suffered from mesh erosion, scarring and inflammation. Ms. Gross has eighteen surgeries to repair damage caused by the Prolift TVM.
In 2008 Ms. Gross filed suit in state superior court in Atlantic City, New Jersey. She brought claims against Ethicon, Inc., and Johnson & Johnson for failing to warn her and her doctor about the potential risks of using the Prolift transvaginal mesh product. Ms. Gross also brought other claims, including misrepresentation, defective design, manufacture, and instructions.
Following trial the jury found that the companies failed to warn Ms. Gross of the risks involved with the device, and that this failure to warn caused her injuries. The jury awarded $3,350,000.00 in compensatory damages and $7,760,000.00 in punitive damages. The total award was $11,110,000.00.
Ethicon, Inc. and Johnson & Johnson appealed the jury verdict.
Appeal’s Court Upholds Jury Verdict
In a huge (second) win for the plaintiff, Ms. Gross, the New Jersey Appellate Court upheld the jury’s verdict in a court decision issued on April 1, 2016. The grounds for appeal were complex, and I won’t try to report all the arguments here. But I will say that one key argument was that the learned intermediary doctrine should have applied. The doctrine goes like this: a manufacturer cannot be liable for negligence if it provides all necessary information to a “learned intermediary” (such as the implanting surgeon), who is then expected to communicate with the patient about the benefits and risks of a medical device. The appeals court ruled that it was not error to instruct the jury that the doctrine did not apply in Ms. Gross’s case.
Next, the appeals court held that Ms. Gross and her attorneys provided sufficient evidence to link the lack of adequate warnings about the pelvic mesh to the injuries Ms. Gross suffered. Ms. Gross’s surgeon testified that he would have spent much more time going over the risks involved if he had known about the problems of the Prolift mesh.
Finally, the appellate court held that the evidence presented was more than adequate to support the jury’s decision to award punitive damages.
This is the second big win for Linda Gross. Three years ago her team won a courtroom victory, and now she protected the court victory by successfully fighting off an aggressive appeal by Ethicon, Inc. and Johnson & Johnson. Perhaps this appellate victory will improve the settlement results for the many transvaginal mesh cases that are still in court system and unresolved.