A New Jersey jury made a big statement to healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson, returning a verdict for $3.35 million in compensatory and $7.8 million in punitive damages for plaintiff Linda Gross who allegedly serious harm as a result of a J&J vaginal mesh product. New Jersey is generally viewed as a difficult state in which to receive punitive damages, making this momentous award all the more important. Many see this case as representative of the serious harm suffered by thousands of people who had the problematic vaginal mesh installed.
Gross, a hospice nurse from South Dakota, had 18 unsuccessful surgeries after the failure of her Gynecare Prolift vaginal mesh implant, which is manufactured by J&J subsidiary Ethicon, according to the Washington Post. The jury determined that J&J did not adequately warn her surgeon of the significant risks of the device, and misled her and other patients about risks. Punitive damages are generally only awarded for a plaintiff if a jury decides that a defendant acted with willful and wanton disregard for the rights of the plaintiff. Therefore, the Atlantic City jury made a strong statement that they believed Johnson& Johnson had behaved “so egregious and reckless as to disregard the health and safety of women,” according to Gross’s attorney.
Mesh products are commonly surgically inserted into the vagina to treat pelvic organ prolapse (POP) and stress urinary incontinence (SUI). These devices are allegedly prone to failure though, and the adverse physical effects due to the contraction of the mesh are varied, including vaginal shortening, bleeding, scarring, infection, erosion, perforation, tightening and significant pain. There are still around 1,800 lawsuits in New Jersey and about 2,200 others nationwide involving Ethicon’s Prolift device. Other mesh manufacturers, including Boston Scientific Corp. , are also facing vaginal mesh suits.
Some believe that Johnson & Johnson’s strategy is to drag out the first handful of trials while waiting for the statute of limitations on claims to run. If the statute of limitations expires before an individual files suit against the company, they are usually barred from ever seeking compensation for their injuries. For this reason, while the significant punitive damage award in this case is exciting, it is extremely important for those with potential claims to contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss their options.