The judge overseeing thousands of federal lawsuits involving transvaginal mesh said maker C.R. Bard should settle the cases to avoid billions in jury-awarded damages, Bloomberg reported.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin noted that juries have already awarded millions to women who suffered complications from these implants in cases against Bard and other mesh manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson and Boston Scientific.
Doctors use mesh implants to treat common problems women face after childbirth like stress urinary incontinence (SUI) and pelvic organ prolapse (POP) – a condition in which weak muscles cause organs to sag in the pelvic area. Once considered the “gold standard” of treatment, these screen-like implants can cause problems such as infections, punctured organs and nerve damage.
According to Carl Tobias, a product liability law professor at the University of Virginia, the move by Goodwin is “almost unprecedented,” he told Bloomberg.
“I can’t imagine a corporation facing potentially billions of dollars in verdicts wouldn’t find it advisable to try to achieve a settlement for a much lesser sum,” Goodwin said at a hearing last week in Charleston, West Virginia. “I base that billions of dollars business on some of the rather large verdicts that we’ve had.”
Goodwin suggested that trial losses could push Bard into bankruptcy, according to Bloomberg. Bard faces more than 12,000 lawsuits.
Millions Already Paid in Settlements
Several device makers already agreed to settle thousands of mesh cases before going to trial. American Medical Systems (AMS) and its subsidiary, Endo, originally estimated liability at $159.8 million in 2013. Since then, however, the company’s payouts skyrocketed well past that figure. It agreed to settle some cases for $54 million and then agreed to an additional amount of $830 million.
Earlier this year, smaller Danish device maker Coloplast settled about 400 cases for $16 million.
Boston Scientific lost two trials back to back in November. Two federal juries ordered the device maker to pay awards of $26.7 million and $18.5 million to 8 women who claimed the company’s mesh products caused them serious injuries. Before these verdicts, a state jury ordered the company to pay $73 million to one woman. In addition, the device maker also lost its appeal to overturn the $5 million verdict of Christine Scott, one of the first women to sue the company for mesh injuries.
If the cases against Bard follow this route, the amount of money needed to settle thousands of its cases could climb into the billion.
Johnson & Johnson faces thousands of mesh lawsuits and pulled a number of its products off the market. Unlike many of its peers, the company refused to discuss a blanket settlement. Back in 2013, the company said it would “request dismissal of meritless claims, including claims with no compensable injury, claims barred by the statute of limitations, misfiled claims, and improperly filed claims,” in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.
In a number of the cases juries ruled that the mesh implants were defective and companies failed to warn women of the dangers. More than 30,000 federal lawsuits await trial under Goodwin, who is in pretrial discussion with lawyers on both sides.
He is frustrated with the slow progress, and he expressed surprise that investors have not pressured companies to settle more cases.
“If I were a stockholder of any of these companies, I would be materially interested in the fact that there have been multiple million-dollar verdicts for individual plaintiffs,” the judge said, according to Bloomberg.
The controversy surrounding the implants seems far from over and lawyers still expect more claims. Dr. Christopher Walker, a mesh removal specialist in Orlando, told Drugwatch that he is seeing a spike in the number of women seeking his help to remove the implants.
In the meantime, more cases are expected to go to trials in 2015.