J&J must fork over another $7.8M in vaginal mesh verdict

Johnson & Johnson is facing thousands of lawsuits over its Prolift device.--Courtesy of Johnson & Johnson

A New Jersey jury has tacked $7.8 million in punitive damages onto the $3.4 million Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) has to pay the first plaintiff in its bevy of Gynecare Prolift lawsuits, a sign that the ongoing litigation could cost the company an all-told hundreds of millions of dollars.

As Reuters reports, J&J said it plans to "vigorously" appeal the award, tied to a verdict earlier this week that the company failed to adequately warn the plaintiff's surgeon of risks associated with the implant. On the upside for J&J, it could have been worse: New Jersey law caps punitive damages at 5 times the value of compensatory awards, and the other side's attorneys pushed for the maximum $16.8 million.

However, if the award holds up in appeals court, J&J could be facing a hefty final price tag once it works through the roughly 2,100 Prolift lawsuits still pending, as plaintiffs around the country allege that subsidiary Ethicon marketed the device despite knowing of design flaws that could result in scarring, nerve damage and organ perforation. J&J pulled Prolift off the market over the summer--citing a decline in demand, not safety concerns.

And Prolift's not the only legal front on which J&J is fighting. The company is grappling with more than 10,000 lawsuits over the now-recalled ASR all-metal hip implants, with plaintiffs claiming its DePuy unit willfully marketed a defective product and seeking millions in damages. This fall, the J&J said it increased its legal war chest by an undisclosed amount to deal with the rise in litigation. 

J&J's hardly alone in staring down costly vaginal mesh lawsuits. More than 100,000 similar cases have been filed around the country over the past year, targeting companies including Boston Scientific ($BSX), C.R. Bard ($BCR) and Covidien ($COV) over their vaginal meshes.

- read the Reuters story