A law firm representing more than 300 Canadian women who have suffered painful complications due to transvaginal mesh implants will file a class- action lawsuit in a Winnipeg court next week.
The Regina-based Merchant Law Group has already begun proceedings in Alberta against manufacturers of the devices. In the coming days, it will file papers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario. If its claim is certified in any one of these provinces, affected women from across Canada will be able to join the suit.
Tony Merchant, the law firm's founder and a company principal, said he's amazed at how many women have come to his firm for help given the fact problems with the devices are not widely known. Only seven of his clients, so far, are from Manitoba.
"I've talked with women whose lives have been destroyed and they're unable to work," he said.
Last week, the Free Press profiled the hardship faced by a 49-year-old mother of four who says she's been wracked by pain since receiving a transvaginal mesh implant at Health Sciences Centre's Women's Hospital a year ago. Christine Asprey has been off work ever since her two-hour surgery last January and describes her life now as "hell on Earth."
Asprey -- along with 160 other Canadian women, including several from Manitoba -- is represented by the Ontario firm Will Davidson.
Another Ontario-based firm, Siskinds, has commenced class-action proceedings against six different vaginal mesh manufacturers, including pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.
"So far, we've been contacted by over 700 women across Canada saying that they have these and they've been damaged by them," said Matthew Baer, a lawyer with Siskinds.
In an interview Thursday, he said he couldn't say off the top of his head how many of these clients and potential clients are from Manitoba, but he said they come from every province in Canada.
There are an estimated 40 manufacturers of transvaginal mesh worldwide, with six to 10 selling to Canada. A lawsuit initiated by a woman in Atlantic City, N.J., against pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson is at the trial stage and is eagerly being watched by lawyers on both sides of the border.
Lawyer Paul Miller, who represents Asprey, said there are thousands of U.S. women suing mesh manufacturers. He recently talked to an American lawyer with 3,500 cases, he said. Another lawyer he knows represents 2,500 clients.
"It's a horrible problem. The problems the women are experiencing are absolutely horrific," Miller said. Rather than launching a class-action suit, his firm is filing separate actions on behalf of each of its clients. So far, it's done about 100 of them.
At this point, Canadian lawyers are targeting product manufacturers, as opposed to the doctors who implanted the devices.
- What is transvaginal mesh?
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, mesh is implanted to correct pelvic organ prolapse, a condition in which pelvic "organs bulge (prolapse) into the vagina," and to treat stress urinary incontinence or the "leakage of urine during moments of physical activity."
- What are the risks of the procedure?
Thousands of women in North America say they've suffered complications from the procedure, including perforation of the vaginal walls, pain, urinary problems, bleeding and the recurrence of prolapse and/or incontinence. The complications have sparked numerous lawsuits throughout North America.