Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon unit destroyed or lost more than a decade of documents related to its Gynecare Prolift transvaginal mesh, lawyers representing plaintiffs suing the manufacturer over mesh injuries allege.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers have asked that a West Virginia federal court bar Johnson & Johnson and Ethicon from relying on certain defenses in bellwether trials planned for this year because of the missing documents, potentially numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
More than 30,000 lawsuits against five manufacturers of transvaginal mesh, including Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon unit, have been combined for multidistrict litigation under U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin in Charleston, W.Va. Thousands more are pending trial in state courts.
Plaintiffs say that the devices caused internal injuries, including organ perforation, bleeding, infection, vaginal injuries, and excruciating pain. In many cases, the injuries have been so extreme that they destroyed jobs and relationships. Women implanted with the devices often undergo multiple surgeries in an attempt to remove fragments of mesh that have become incorporated with surrounding tissue.
“Ethicon’s document destruction has severely prejudiced the plaintiffs for the upcoming bellwether trials,” lawyers said in the Dec. 2 filing. “Defendants should not benefit from the gaps in plaintiffs’ story that defendant created.”
The first federal trial for Ethicon and its parent company is scheduled to start Feb. 10. Other personal-injury lawsuits blaming the companies for manufacturing and marketing defective mesh products have gone to trial in state courts. Earlier this year, a New Jersey jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay more than $11 million in damages to a woman who claimed she had been seriously injured by a Gynecare Prolift mesh device she had implanted.
According to the court filing, Johnson & Johnson executives claim they instructed Ethicon officials to preserve documents pertaining to the development and regulatory approval of its transvaginal mesh devices, but Ethicon acknowledged some of its employees failed to comply with that order.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys warned that “The proverbial slap on the hand is not enough” to bar companies like Johnson & Johnson from destroying potential evidence ahead of trial.