A U.S. judge has found that Johnson & Johnson and its Ethicon unit destroyed company documents about some of its transvaginal mesh implants ahead of its Feb. 10 trial in which the health care conglomerate is defending itself against thousands of personal-injury lawsuits.
U.S. magistrate judge Cheryl Eifert concluded that Ethicon destroyed thousands of computer files and other documents pertaining to its Gynecare Prolift and TVT Retropublic mesh devices, which thousands of women blame for excruciating internal injuries. Because the company acted improperly, juries may be allowed to hear and weigh evidence about the alleged document dumping, Judge Eifert said.
Johnson & Johnson / Ethicon currently face 12,000 vaginal mesh injury claims in a Charleston, W.Va., federal court where more than 40,000 lawsuits against five transvaginal mesh manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson and Ethicon, have been combined for multidistrict litigation. Thousands more cases have been tried or remain pending in state courts.
Plaintiffs say that the devices cause a multitude of injuries, including organ perforation, bleeding, infection, vaginal injuries, and excruciating pain. In many cases, according to the complaints, 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.
Judge Eifert recommended that U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin, who is overseeing the federal MDL, allow plaintiff lawyers to tell jurors about Ethicon’s missing documents because their destruction has put plaintiffs at a disadvantage.
Ethicon officials have said that the company’s system of preserving documents “failed miserably in certain instances” but claims that intentional wrongdoing was not a factor.