J&J blinks in vaginal mesh cases, drops complaint over patient solicitation

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) has already dropped a legal tactic it adopted just a month ago in its defense against lawsuits over the transvaginal mesh devices from its Ethicon subsidiary. In mid-January, J&J asked the district judge overseeing the federal lawsuit to investigate phone calls urging women with the implant to file suit against the company.

But now it's dropped that strategy, requesting to withdraw that motion to U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin in the Southern District of West Virginia, according to a report by Reuters.

Late last week, Goodwin told lawyers that they were not being helpful given some recent motions. The judge encouraged a comprehensive settlement between 7 devicemakers and the plaintiffs in the 70,000 lawsuits they face over potentially dangerous transvaginal mesh. They are alleged to lead to painful problems including bleeding, infection and nerve damage.

The lead plaintiff's lawyer, Bryan Aylstock, told Reuters he is 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."

A number of devicemakers have made settlements. In fact, Goodwin said during a hearing that he could not "imagine a corporation facing potentially billions of dollars in verdicts wouldn't find it advisable to try to achieve a settlement for a much lesser sum" and pointed to other "rather large" verdicts from similar cases. These include awards to two sets of four women worth $18.5 million and $26.7 million for suits filed against Boston Scientific ($BSX) for its vaginal mesh product.

Also, J&J has agreed to settle more than 100 product liability lawsuits regarding pelvic mesh products sold by its Mentor subsidiary.

Two manufacturers have already heeded the judge's advice and arrived at a comprehensive settlement. Endo ($ENDP) agreed in October of last year to pay an additional $400 million to settle "substantially all" of the remaining claims related to its vaginal mesh implants. And Danish devicemaker Coloplast paid $16 million to settle lawsuits claiming it injured women with vaginal mesh inserts in March 2014.

The FDA issued a warning against vaginal mesh implants as early as 2008. It stated: "The most frequent complications included erosion through vaginal epithelium, infection, pain, urinary problems, and recurrence of prolapse and/or incontinence. There were also reports of bowel, bladder and blood vessel perforation during insertion. In some cases, vaginal scarring and mesh erosion led to a significant decrease in patient quality of life due to discomfort and pain, including dyspareunia."

- here is the Reuters story

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