A woman claiming she suffered ongoing pain from a pelvic mesh implant was awarded $2.1 million by a Philadelphia jury last Friday.
The jury found that the risks of the Prolift mesh product, which was made by Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Ethicon Inc., outweighed its benefits and was responsible for plaintiff Sharon Beltz’s chronic vaginal pain.
The verdict marks the fourth time in as many trials that Johnson & Johnson suffered a loss in Philadelphia’s pelvic mesh mass tort program.
Thomas R. Kline of Line & Specter, who represented the plaintiff, said that they were pleased with the outcome.
“This is now our fourth consecutive Philadelphia jury verdict award [of] multimillion dollars against Johnson and Johnson for their dangerously defective transvaginal mesh products which injured tens of thousands of women, this being the second straight jury verdict relating to its dangerous Prolift product, which was withdrawn from the market in 2012,” Kline said in an email to The Legal Intelligencer. “We are pleased that Sharon Beltz, a woman from Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania, will be compensated, and expect many additional jury verdicts to follow.”
The 12-member jury announced the verdict on May 26 after 12 days of trial and nine hours of deliberation.
Although the jury awarded Beltz money, the jury found that the mesh was properly designed and performed as expected. It also found that Ethicon had properly warned her surgeon about the risks of the product.
The decision came from the Tincher risk-utility test, which established two ways to assess whether a product was defective. The jury decided that the device did not fail to perform as expected but that its risks outweighed the benefits.
“This case was a good test of the Tincher alternative standard,” Kline said to Law360. “It showed the plaintiff could win on one or another.”
Beltz Suffered Surgical Complications from J&J Mesh
Beltz filed the lawsuit in 2013 as part of Philadelphia’s pelvic mesh mass tort, but her problems started well before then.
In 2006, she suffered from pelvic organ prolapse, which is a hernia of the pelvic organs in or around the vagina, and stress urinary incontinence after four pregnancies. She was treated with Prolift, which had only been released a year earlier.
According to the court documents, doctors tried to take out the surgical mesh after complications but could not remove it.
“Mrs. Beltz’s problems are thus permanent. She may elect to undergo further pain injections, resection of the mesh, or start taking pain medications regularly, but these options at best will only mitigate her symptoms,” the court papers said, according to The Legal Intelligencer. “She has to live the remainder of her life with constant pelvic pain, a sensation her bladder is pulling, urinary incontinence and retention, lower flank pain, urinary tract infections, and severe pain with sex that lingers days after she has intercourse.”
The papers added that “She will be at risk for exposure of the mesh in her vagina and erosion of the mesh into her bladder, urethra, or other organs for the remainder of her life.”
Ethicon stopped selling the mesh in 2012 and has faced hundreds of lawsuits related to its mesh devices.
Beck Redden LLP attorney Kat Gallagher, who argued for Johnson & Johnson, said that the company had adequately warned the doctors of the risks and the device was not defective. She further said that the mesh did what it was supposed to.
“This was not a minor quality-of-life issue. This was a big problem for her and she wanted to have something done,” she said. “She decides after weighing her risks and benefits that she wants to go forward.”
Gallagher also noted that Beltz was seated for 90 minutes of oral arguments without any interruption and would not have been able to do that before receiving the implant.
Kline alleged that Prolift was introduced hastily because of a new product from a rival. But the implant had a 26 percent rate of painful shrinkage a year after it was introduced and a 42 percent rate of dyspareunia by the time it was removed from the market, he said.
Case Featured Lowest Amount of Previous Mesh Verdicts
Although lawyers saw the verdict as a victory, the amount was the lowest of the four verdicts that came against Johnson & Johnson in its hernia mesh lawsuits in Philadelphia.
In April, the company was hit with a $20 million verdict over its mesh implants. The plaintiff, Peggy Engleman, received $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $17.5 million in punitive damages.
The jury in the Beltz trial declined to award punitive damages.
A spokeswoman for Ethicon said that decision pointed to the fact that the product was not defective.
“We empathize with women suffering from pelvic organ prolapse, which can be a serious and debilitating condition,” Kristen Wallace said to Law360 in an email. “There are various treatment choices for this condition, including surgical treatment with implantable mesh, which is backed by years of clinical research and can be the preferred option for some women seeking to improve their quality of life.”
The fifth trial related to pelvic mesh made by Ethicon is currently underway.