By Doug Allen
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A jury here awarded $2 million on Thursday to a plaintiff who claimed a transvaginal mesh device permanently injured her, causing constant pain and requiring several surgeries to remove. The four men and four women deliberated about 12 hours before reaching a unanimous decision in the first mesh trial in federal court.
Finding C.R. Bard’s Avaulta Plus transvaginal mesh device defective by design, the jury awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages to Donna Cisson, the patient at the center of the lawsuit. During a second phase of jury deliberations lasting about 40 minutes, jurors awarded an additional $1.75 million in punitive damages, which are meant to punish, penalize or deter Bard from committing the same offense again.
The jury did not award Dan Cisson, Donna’s husband, damages for loss of consortium. During the trial, Mr. Cisson testified he didn’t want money on that charge, saying the lawsuit was primarily about his wife’s pain and suffering and he was there solely to support her.
Donna Cisson: ‘I Hope This Trial Set a Precedent’
The couple were tearful and held each other while the award of punitive damages was read.
“I feel this trial represented me and all the other ladies affected by this product,” Donna Cisson told Drugwatch in an exclusive interview after the verdict. “I hope this trial set a precedent for all the other women who have this product in their bodies. … Please continue to pray for me and all the other ladies that have been affected.”
The Cissons also thanked their legal team for the victory, while saying that their ordeal is not over. Donna Cisson expects to have more surgeries to remove some of the 22 inches of mesh material still inside her body.
“I’ll spend the rest of my life in pain,” the 55-year-old nurse from Georgia said. “(My body’s) a ticking time bomb.”
Plaintiff’s Attorney: ‘Jury Sent a Message’
In Cisson v. C.R. Bard Inc., the jury also found the company guilty of failing to warn of the dangers of the Avaulta product once it knew about complications. Attorneys for the plaintiff argued during the trial that the Instructions for Use included with the product did not adequately reflect the known dangers of the device.
Lead plaintiff attorney Henry Garrard argued to the jury that punitive damages should be considered in light of the fact that no Bard executive showed any remorse, or came to court to apologize to the plaintiff.
“This jury sent a message to the company that they need to change their ways, and we hope they will make amends and do things differently,” Garrard told reporters. “I would hope that the company would pay attention to this.”
The verdict comes a year after a jury in California found in favor of Christine Scott, and ordered Bard to pay $3.6 million.
Bard: ‘Compelling Grounds for Reversal’
Greg Dadika, associate general counsel of litigation for Bard, contested the jury’s decision.
“We disagree with the verdict reached by the jury and believe there are compelling grounds for a reversal,” Dadika told Drugwatch outside the courtroom. “We will appeal and continue to vigorously defend against all of the lawsuits regarding this product.”
This case is the first of four cases against Bard scheduled in federal court. The four “bellwether” cases are intended to help predict a trend in verdicts and encourage both sides to settle. More than 26,000 similar cases await resolution in the U. S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, with more than 3,000 of those claims against Bard.
Judge Joseph R. Goodwin is overseeing all of the combined cases, called multidistrict litigation. The next trial, Queen v. C. R. Bard Inc., begins Monday in Goodwin’s courtroom. The same teams of attorneys will represent the plaintiffs and the defense.
UPDATE: On Oct. 18, 2013, Goodwin denied Bard’s motion to overturn the verdict.
Doug Allen is a freelance reporter based in Aspen, Colo. His work has appeared in local and national print and radio outlets, including The Washington Post and Aspen Public Radio.