Jury mulls punitive damages in J&J mesh verdict

It's bad enough for Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) that it lost the first of more than 2,100 lawsuits in the mix regarding its Gynecare Prolift vaginal mesh, which was voluntarily discontinued last year after a litany of safety problems. But as Bloomberg reports, a $3.35 million compensatory damages verdict in favor of the plaintiff this week is just a fraction of the punitive damages now under consideration by the New Jersey jury.

Under New Jersey law, punitive damages are capped at five times compensentory damages, so jurors could add another $16.75 million to the final tally for this one case. Remember that this lawsuit is the first of several thousand in the mix alleging that Johnson & Johnson sold vaginal mesh through its Ethicon subsidiary, despite allegedly knowing risks of scarring, pain, nerve damage and organ perforation. Then do the math, and you begin to see how the pain could become profound for the company, despite its $64.8 billion net worth.

Whatever they decide, it's bad public relations for a company that's also dealing with a number of lawsuits over the safety of the company's DePuy ASR metal-on-metal hip.

Lawyers representing South Dakota nurse Linda Gross, who won the $3.35 million verdict, argued on Feb. 26 that jurors should send a message by granting a high level of punitive damages.

Johnson & Johnson's attorneys, meanwhile, urged the jury to keep in mind that there is a higher burden of proof for punitive damages. And rivals including Boston Scientific ($BSX), C.R. Bard ($BCR) and Covidien ($COV), all of whom are facing similar lawsuits over faulty vaginal mesh, are likely watching very closely.

- read the Bloomberg story