Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

J&J to Pay $20 Million in Vaginal-Mesh Case as Other Trials Loom

  • Philadelphia jury found mesh device had defective design
  • Verdict includes $17.5 million in punishment damages

Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $20 million to a New Jersey woman who blames the company’s vaginal-mesh inserts for leaving her in constant pain as the company prepares for a new wave of trials over the medical devices.

A state-court jury in Philadelphia concluded Friday that J&J’s TVT-Secur mesh, designed to treat incontinence in women, was defectively designed and caused Margaret Engleman’s injuries. The panel awarded her $2.5 million and then hit J&J and its Ethicon unit with $17.5 million in punitive damages.

The verdict is the first against J&J over the vaginal-mesh devices in more than a year. The world’s largest maker of health-care products hasn’t faced any trials while it sought to negotiate settlements in some of the more than 54,000 lawsuits pending over the inserts. The company faces three more trials in Philadelphia in the next two months.

Kristen Wallace, an Ethicon spokeswoman, said the company will appeal the jury’s findings that the devices were defective and that the company failed to provide adequate warnings about the risks.

‘Properly Designed’

“We believe the evidence showed Ethicon’s TVT-Secur device was properly designed, Ethicon acted appropriately and responsibly in the research, development and marketing of the product, and TVT-Secur was not the cause of the plaintiff’s continuing medical problems,” Wallace said in an emailed statement.

J&J, based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, has lost at least five jury awards totaling more than $35 million over the mesh inserts since 2014. It has settled other cases, including one for as much as $5 million. The company has won several cases, including a 2015 lawsuit in Texas over its Prosima inserts. J&J is appealing some of the plaintiff’s wins.

Carl Tobias, who teaches product liability law at the University of Richmond in Virginia, said J&J should consider a comprehensive settlement to all the cases.

“It would be silly to continue taking these cases to trial when they are losing,” he said in an interview. “There’s no sense in continuing to shell out for the defense costs and suffer the reputation damage that comes with each win by the plaintiffs.”

For more on the lawsuits, click here.

Almost five years ago, J&J voluntarily pulled four lines of mesh inserts, including the TVT-Secur device, off the market after facing a wave of litigation. Ethicon is the J&J unit that sells the mesh.

The decision to stop selling the inserts came six months after regulators ordered J&J and more than 20 other makers of such devices, designed to treat incontinence and shore up weakened pelvic muscles, to conduct further studies about their health risks.

Engleman said the TVT-Secur mesh eroded once it was placed in her body in 2007, forcing her to undergo multiple surgeries to try and remove the mesh. The insert caused her “sharp stabbing pain” and exacerbated her bladder problems, according to court filings.

“I’m happy I could be a voice for other women,” Engleman said Friday in an emailed statement. “It’s been a nightmare.”

The case is Engleman v. Ethicon, No., 05385, Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.

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