A New Jersey jury has ordered a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary to pay $3.35 million in the first of 2,100 lawsuits over its vaginal mesh implant, and will now weigh punitive damages that may total as much as $16.75 million.
The Atlantic City jury Monday found that J&J's Ethicon unit failed to warn a South Dakota woman's surgeon of the risks tied to its Gynecare Prolift vaginal mesh implant and fraudulently misled her. Linda Gross, a 47-year-old nurse, sued along with her husband, complaining of constant pain and 18 operations she had after the device was implanted.
J&J, the world's biggest seller of health-care products, didn't defectively design the mesh and didn't make fraudulent misrepresentations to Gross's surgeon, the jury ruled.
"This verdict establishes that Johnson & Johnson and Ethicon failed to tell physicians and women the truth about the catastrophic complications that can result from the Prolift," Gross attorney Adam Slater said in an interview.
Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee ruled Gross's lawyers can ask jurors for punitive damages. Compensatory damages pay victims for losses and injuries. Punitives are used to punish defendants for willful and wanton behavior. State law caps punitive damages at five times compensatory damages, or $16.75 million, although jurors won't learn of the cap.
Jurors, ruling after five days of deliberations, awarded Gross $1.1 million for her pain and suffering; $180,000 for lost wages; $500,000 for future lost wages; $385,000 for past medical treatment; $1 million for future medical treatment; and $180,000 for her husband's loss of companionship and conjugal affections.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration told J&J, C.R. Bard Inc. and 31 other manufacturers in January 2012 to study rates of organ damage and complications linked to vaginal mesh implants. Doctors implanted more than 70,000 such devices in U.S. women in 2010 to shore up pelvic muscles.
Slater argued to jurors that company documents and emails showed Ethicon knew the mesh would cause pain and harm women. Gross blamed the mesh for constant pain that makes it hard to sit and for subsequent operations to remove mesh that hardened.
J&J, based in New Brunswick, N.J., claimed during the trial that Prolift is safe and effective, and the company warned adequately of risks.
"We will present evidence to the jury tomorrow in the punitive phase of the trial, which followed a mixed verdict by the jury," Sheri Woodruff, vice president of communications at Ethicon Surgical Care, said Monday in a statement. "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."