A state appeals court in New Jersey has upheld an $11.1 million jury award to a woman who claims a Johnson & Johnson unit’s vaginal mesh product caused debilitating nerve pain, saying ample evidence presented at trial showed that better warnings of the product’s risks might have prevented her injuries. The jury heard sufficient evidence showing Linda Gross’ doctor might have offered different guidance if he would have had more information about the product’s risks. This might have led the woman to pursue a different course of treatment and avoided her injuries. Johnson and Johnson and its subsidiary Ethicon Inc., were Defendants in the case. A three-judge panel ruled in the bellwether case to this effect, saying in the opinion: “The evidence was sufficient to allow the jury to find an adequate warning would have prevented plaintiff’s injuries.”
Linda Gross and her husband filed suit in 2008, alleging that Ethicon had failed to fully disclose risks associated with its Gynecare Prolift mesh product, which Mrs. Gross used to repair a pelvic floor collapse. The Gross case was the bellwether in New Jersey’s multidistrict litigation (MDL) over Ethicon’s vaginal mesh products, which it agreed to stop selling in June 2012, even though it claimed the products were not harmful.
The appeals panel agreed with the trial judge on all issues, noting the doctor’s testimony that he would have counseled against the procedure or spent at least 45 minutes discussing its drawbacks if he had known it “should not be implanted in sexually active people.” The appeals court panel wrote:
The judge had also relied on the plaintiff’s testimony that she would not have selected the Prolift option if she had known of the risks and recognized there was overwhelming evidence to show the company had information about Prolift that it chose not to provide to the physician.
The panel’s ruling follows the decision by New Jersey Superior Court Judge Carol E. Higbee who ruled on post-verdict motions and did not second-guess the jury’s award in February 2013 of $3.35 million in compensatory damages and $7.76 million in punitive damages to Ms. Gross for injuries caused by her use of the Gynecare Prolift mesh product to repair a pelvic floor collapse.
The trial featured testimony from a number of Ethicon employees who were questioned about the design, testing and marketing of Prolift, which Ms. Gross had implanted in 2006 to repair a pelvic organ prolapse. Ms. Gross had 18 subsequent surgeries to remove the mesh after she said the product caused severe nerve pain that ended her nursing career and prevented her from enjoying time with her family or from having a normal sex life.
Because the case is the first pelvic mesh case to go to trial in New Jersey, where Johnson & Johnson is headquartered, Adam M. Slater, one of Ms. Gross’ lawyers said the ruling will have a meaningful impact for more than 9,000 other women who claim injuries related to pelvic mesh use. He stated:
I’m happy for all the other women out there who are waiting for trials, because the decision gives tremendous guidance to the courts that are going to hear these cases going forward.
Mrs. Gross is represented by Adam M. Slater and David A. Mazie of Mazie Slater Katz & Freeman LLC. They have done a very good job in this case, which is in the Superior Court of the State of New Jersey, County of Atlantic.
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