Laura Yaeger spends a good deal of her time on transvaginal mesh litigation. During her career, Yaeger has represented thousands of individuals who have been harmed by the conduct of others – namely the manufacturers of dangerous drugs and medical devices. She is a strong advocate for clients and maintains a clear focus on the details of her clients’ cases. Yaeger has a proven track record of success in complex litigation.
A native Floridian, Yaeger graduated with honors from St. Thomas University School of Law in 1996. In May 2009, she graduated with high honors from University of Houston Law Center, obtaining her master’s in Health Law.
Today, she handles mass tort litigation, including cases related to transvaginal mesh, for Morgan & Morgan — a leading personal injury law firm serving clients from across the country.
Drugwatch.com was privileged to talk recently with Yaeger.
Drugwatch: How did you become involved in the mesh litigation?
Laura Yaeger: I have been working on transvaginal mesh litigation since before July 2011, which is when the FDA issued the safety alert on the products.
DW: What is your role in the six mesh multidistrict litigations (MDLs)?
Yaeger: At the beginning of the litigation, the MDL court, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, established a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee. Applications are submitted, and the judge, in this case, the Honorable Judge Goodwin, appoints members to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee.
Morgan & Morgan was appointed to this committee, which involves four MDLs – Boston Scientific, J&J’s Ethicon, AMS and Bard. As a member of the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, our task is to coordinate and assist with discovery, document review, depositions, picking bellwether trial candidates and more.
It runs the gamut of legal work. Any and all work done by the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee helps all cases within the MDLs.
DW: Why are there six MDLs?
Yaeger: They are considered separate MDLs. This is an unusual situation. When the cases were consolidated, the JPML (U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation) considered that all of the mesh products were similar – and some of the legal and discovery issues would be common – so the cases were consolidated in front of one judge.
It’s one of the largest steering committees — over 50 people and 40 products within the four MDLs.
DW: The first federal trial begins this week in West Virginia. After the first few Bard trials, what happens to the rest of the Bard cases?
Yaeger: The judge set a schedule for bellwether cases to be picked and worked up for trial. I was intimately involved in the AMS bellwether selection process. Essentially, this is how it works: The defendant selects 15-18 cases for a bellwether pool. The plaintiffs select the same number. Then bellwether pool cases are worked up for trial. This means depositions are scheduled and taken.
Eventually, the bellwether pool is narrowed. The plaintiffs pick a certain number of cases to remain in the pool, and then the defendant does the same. Then the judge decides which order the case will go to trial. Judge Goodwin said he was going to roll from trial to trial.
After the Bard trials, the judge has set trial dates for each defendant. The AMS trial is scheduled for December 2013. The Ethicon trial is set for January 2014, and the Boston Scientific trial is on the calendar for February 2014.
After February, he’ll go back to Bard. (The judge) will continuously rotate to get cases tried.
DW: Why are so many cases grouped together in West Virginia? If someone calls you today, will their case go to West Virginia, too?
Yaeger: We decide to file each case independently. However, if we file the case in the MDL, we can file directly into West Virginia.
DW: AMS just settled a number of mesh cases for more than $50 million. When do you expect more mesh settlements?
Yaeger: It’s hard to predict. A year ago, I didn’t think we’d see anything for about three years. It depends on a number of factors, including the pace of litigation, the type of cases – stress urinary incontinence (SUI) versus pelvic organ prolapse – and the strategy the defense takes.
I wish I had a crystal ball so I could tell clients when and if they will have a settlement. However, there is no way to predict it. Judge Goodwin is really pushing the litigation. That’s a good sign. He’s making everybody toe the line.
DW: What is the biggest problem with transvaginal mesh? The products? The manufacturers? The FDA approval process?
Yaeger: There are problems with the FDA, but it’s not the FDA’s fault. I believe the problem is twofold – manufacturers put profits over the safety of the patient. With that mindset, what happens is – they design products that are defective and fail to study them. With mesh, the defects are not only in the manufacturing process – how the polypropylene mesh is manufactured and the pore size – but with the technique they designed to implant the mesh.
The biggest problem with mesh is that the manufacturers knew it could cause these issues, didn’t warn about them, and never said, ‘You can’t remove this stuff.’ Even if these women can have it removed, there is no guarantee it will fix the complications they’re having.
DW: Should some/all mesh products be recalled? Why or why not?
Yaeger: I don’t think they should be on the market at all.
They (the manufacturers) didn’t pull their products until the FDA ordered them to conduct further studies on the products. The manufacturers don’t want to move forward with the studies. If they really believed in these products, don’t you think they would spend a little money to test them?
DW: What do you say to women who have been injured by mesh?
Yaeger: I’ve talked to hundreds and hundreds of women. They’re always very difficult conversations. You really can’t say anything to make their lives better. Their lives in some ways have been completely ruined. Even if we can get them justice– and have the manufacturers pay for their injuries – they’ll never be made whole again. That’s the most difficult part.
DW: Why should women consider filing a mesh lawsuit?
Yaeger: If a woman is injured from the mesh, and they would like to be compensated for their injuries, they have a certain time limit to file a claim. If they have been harmed, they need to think about whether they want to move forward and have someone protect their interests. If they don’t do it soon, they may never be able to get compensation for their injuries.
DW: How much does it cost to file a mesh lawsuit?
Yaeger: Most of these cases are taken on a contingency basis. We are only paid our fee and reasonable expenses if we recover for them.
Laura Yaeger is a contributing writer for Drugwatch.