Over the course of the past several days, Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson company, has crowed over the fact that it “prevailed” in a lawsuit regarding the pelvic mesh devices it manufactured and promoted. At first glance, the media headlines regarding Ethicon’s recent “triumph” are confusing, and might even make it seem like Ethicon has already won the overall multidistrict litigation. This is far from the truth, so we thought we would set the record straight.
All that has happened is that a federal court has thrown out one woman’s lawsuit. Specifically, on February 18, 2014, Judge Joseph R. Goodwin found that the plaintiff, Carolyn Lewis, failed to show proof of a defective product in her case. As a result, the court granted Ethicon’s motion for directed verdict. See In Re: Ethicon, Inc., Pelvic Repair System Products Liability Litigation, MDL Docket No. 2327, Carolyn Lewis, et al. v. Johnson & Johnson, et al., No. 2:12-4301, S.D. W.Va.
The lawsuit filed by Carolyn Lewis was the first bellwether trial against Ethicon before Judge Goodwin. “Bellwether” trials are early cases designed to help the parties test how the court and juries may respond to evidence and testimony that is likely to be similar to what is offered in other cases. However, each individual plaintiff has to establish her own case and show that the product caused her injury. The outcome of any bellwether trials are not binding on other cases in the litigation. (For more on bellwether cases, check out: Vaginal Mesh Cases and Neutered Sheep – What’s the Connection?)
In no way do we minimize the disappointment many feel as a result of the ruling in Ms. Lewis’ case. However, not all is lost for other plaintiffs or potential plaintiffs. The facts of each and every case are different and may therefore have very different outcomes. Prior to this year, at least three other pelvic mesh cases went to trial, including two cases that went before state court juries and one case in federal court. In all three cases, plaintiffs triumphed and received multi-million dollar damage awards from the jury.
With all this said, Ethicon needs to hold off on doing any kind of victory dance. In the grand scheme of things, one motion for a directed verdict in Ethicon’s favor is far from an overall triumph. Ethicon faces months and months of future litigation, as do other manufacturers and promoters of pelvic mesh devices. According to a case list released by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, Judge Goodwin is currently presiding over 12,992 Ethicon mesh lawsuits, 13,292 AMS mesh lawsuits, 7,617 Boston Scientific mesh lawsuits, 6,172 Bard Avaulta mesh lawsuits, 1,155 Coloplast mesh lawsuits and 152 Cook Medical mesh lawsuits.
We would welcome the opportunity to help any woman injured by Ethicon pelvic mesh.