The thousands of women who have suffered serious injury and pain due to complications from the implantation of transvaginal mesh are paying close attention to the progress of the first bellwether trials of mesh manufacturers Ethicon and C.R. Bard, now underway. Bellwether trials are used as indicators of how future litigations might proceed in situations where there are large numbers of similar cases pending, as in the over 1800 cases pending against Ethicon, maker of the Gynecare Prolift transvaginal mesh. C.R. Bard, manufacturer of the Avaulta line of transvaginal mesh products, also faces a large number of similar lawsuits stemming from complaints filed by women suffering from a variety of symptoms including vaginal scarring, pelvic inflammation, chronic pain, and infection after implantation of transvaginal mesh devices.
These suits are not class actions, but multidistrict litigation cases (MDLs). An MDL allows a single judge to preside over all pre-trial proceedings including discovery and motions. The cases appear in the same court however each lawsuit remains separate and unique. Because the cases involve common factual and legal issues, the trial can reveal evidence, trends or patterns in the litigation, or act as a guide for later trials involving similar allegations.
Transvaginal mesh has been widely used to repair pelvic organ prolapse (POP), a condition in which a woman’s pelvic organs slip out of place and protrude into the vagina because of weakening pelvic muscles, sometimes resulting in stress urinary incontinence (SUI), another widely cited reason for the implantation of transvaginal mesh. Frequently, patients who have undergone surgery for either of these conditions are not even aware that they have been implanted with the mesh products until they begin to suffer adverse effects and symptoms.
In the current case brought against Ethicon, the plaintiff alleges that Johnson & Johnson, parent company of Ethicon, was negligent and failed to warn of the risks associated with the Gynecare Prolift mesh device. She also alleges that the design of the implant was defective and that Johnson & Johnson deceived consumers and committed fraud. As a result of her experience with the transvaginal mesh, the plaintiff has had to undergo 22 additional surgeries and continues to suffer from chronic pain, and has been left unable to have sex with her husband or to sit comfortably for long periods of time.
The outcomes of these first actions against Ethicon and C.R. Bard are certain to have a significant impact on the scores of similar suits pending across the country, as thousands of women await their turn to have their cases, and their stories, heard.