Johnson & Johnson vaginal mesh trial begins in Australia

The vaginal mesh case against Johnson & Johnson in Australia involves more than 700 plaintiffs claiming injury from the devices.

A trial involving more than 700 patients who were implanted with vaginal mesh or tape has started in Australian federal court. The plaintiffs allege that Johnson & Johnson minimized the risk of the devices to patients and surgeons.

The class-action suit is being heard in the Federal Court in Sydney. In addition to failing to properly warn surgeons and patients of the devices’ risks, Johnson & Johnson did not test the devices adequately, The Guardian reported.

Specifically, the company “aggressively” marketed the treatment to surgeons while downplaying or not communicating the risks, said Tony Bannon, the lawyer representing the claimants.

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“[They were] overwhelmed by a tidal wave of aggressive promotion, designed to persuade both surgeons and patients of the quick, easy one operation able to resolve the particular difficulties,” Bannon told the court.

Vaginal mesh is designed to treat pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence, but lawsuits in several countries, including the U.S., have turned up numerous complications, including tissue death and bone erosion.

The plaintiffs in the Australian case said they experienced bleeding and severe discomfort during sexual intercourse after having the device surgically implanted, Reuters reported.

The trial is expected to run for six months.

Stateside, the lawsuits have been piling upfor J&J, which in 2012 stopped marketing four of its vaginal mesh products, and in 2016, earmarked more than $120 million to settle a portion of the lawsuits. However, this sum will only resolve between 2,000 and 3,000 of the more than 40,000 suits the company is facing.

In May this year, a Philadelphia jury awarded $20 million in damages to a plaintiff who had undergone multiple unsuccessful surgeries to remove her pelvic mesh device.

Outside of vaginal mesh suits, J&J has been hit with a couple of whoppers—a Dallas jury has handed down a $500 million verdict and a $1 billion verdict in cases involving its metal-on-metal Pinnacle hip implants. But the company may catch a break, thanks to a Texas law that limits punitive damages.

Editor's note: This article originally stated that the $500 million and $1 billion verdict were for vaginal mesh cases. They were handed down in separate litigation involving J&J's Pinnacle hip implants.