Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Vaginal-mesh sufferer awarded $11.1 million

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A New Jersey jury on Thursday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay punitive damages of $7.76 million to a former nurse who blames its vaginal mesh implant for years of "living hell," despite unsuccessful repair surgeries.

The award adds to the $3.35 million in compensatory damages awarded by the state Superior Court jury on Monday, making a total of $11.1 million in damages.

It's the first verdict in about 4,000 lawsuits filed against the giant health-products maker based in New Brunswick, N.J.

Johnson & Johnson said the decision isn't supported by the evidence.

"We will vigorously pursue an appeal," Sheri Woodruff, a spokeswoman for the company's Ethicon surgical-products subsidiary, said in a statement.

Ethicon sold its Prolift brand of implants from 2005 until 2012, when it pulled them from the market amid mounting lawsuits.

At least one plaintiff has won a lawsuit against one of the other 30-plus makers of the once-popular implants, which are used to lift sagging pelvic organs back into place to relieve pain and other problems.

The plaintiff, Linda Gross, 47, of Watertown, S.D., testified during the seven-week trial she had undergone 18 revision surgeries -- all without success -- since having J&J's Prolift vaginal mesh device implanted in 2006. Severe pain and other complications forced the hospital hospice nurse to stop working.

"Linda Gross cannot turn back the clock and make her misery and pain disappear," her lead attorney, Adam Slater of the Mazie Slater firm in Roseland, N.J., said in a statement. "But she and countless victims like her can take some comfort in knowing that a jury... decided... that the corporation responsible for their suffering should be severely punished financially."

Introduced more than a decade ago, mesh implants, made of a porous synthetic or biologic material, were implanted in hundreds of thousands of women.

They are tied to ligaments or bone to serve as a sort of sling to lift and support the organ involved.

The devices were touted as a safer, easier alternative to hysterectomy or other surgery to repair pelvic organ prolapse. The condition occurs when a pelvic organ -- the bladder, uterus, vagina, bowel or rectum -- droops as muscles supporting it weaken, usually due to childbirth. Aging, obesity and other factors can also trigger it.

The sagging organs can cause painful intercourse, lower backache, constipation and stress incontinence, or bladder leakage usually induced by coughing, sneezing, lifting heavy objects or exercising.

Mesh implants have helped many women. However, thousands of women who got them later complained of complications, including severe pain, infections and bleeding, and underwent followup surgeries to try to fix those problems.

Johnson & Johnson faces about 1,800 lawsuits filed in New Jersey, its home state, and about 2,200 filed in other courts.


-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2013 B5

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