A consumer advocacy group is asking the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate whether Johnson & Johnson purposely destroyed documents relevant to multidistrict litigation involving its transvaginal mesh device.
Consumer Action Network, a nonprofit organization advocating for consumer and workers’ rights, pushed for the criminal investigation after a West Virginia judge last month found that Johnson & Johnson’s destruction or loss of documents was negligent but not deliberate. The nonprofit argues that the judge was only able to consider a portion of the evidence before making her decision. An attorney general would have a wider scope and the ability to interview executives with Johnson & Johnson in order to make a more informed decision, the advocacy group says.
Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Ethicon are facing thousands of lawsuits from women who claim the company’s transvaginal mesh device was defective and caused them injuries, including organ perforation, hemorrhaging, infection, vaginal injuries and chronic pain. The mesh is used to treat common pelvic floor disorders including pelvic organ prolapse and stress urinary incontinence.
In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that it had received more than 1,500 reports in the past couple years of complications associated with transvaginal mesh devices made by various manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon. The agency warned that complications were not uncommon. Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against makers of the surgical mesh, also known as vaginal mesh and bladder slings.
Destruction of documents leading up to and during judicial proceedings “would constitute a reportable event that should have been disclosed by [Johnson & Johnson CEO] Gorsky and other top executives,” says Mark Fleischman, president of the Corporate Action Network. “After denials by its top executives, it has now come to light that Johnson & Johnson destroyed thousands of documents.”