For decades, transvaginal mesh has been surgically implanted in women across the nation and world to treat organ prolapse and urinary incontinence. For some women, the plastic medical device was helpful. But for tens of thousands – far too high a percentage for the vaginal mesh products to be considered safe -- the mesh eroded after it was implanted. Subsequent surgeries were unsuccessful in removing these “shards.” Women were left in severe pain, particularly when trying to have sexual intercourse, a condition known as dyspareunia.
In recent years, these injured women have fought back, filing thousands of lawsuits claiming the products were poorly designed, defective and that the manufacturers failed to warn patients and doctors of high failure rates. Some products were taken off the market, but others are still being implanted in women without their knowledge – or the knowledge of their doctors in many cases – of the associated dangers. One such product is the TVT-O device being sold by the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Ethicon Inc. Recently, a jury in Philadelphia found that company acted negligently, causing very significant injury. The jury awarded $120 million to an Altoona woman, Susan McFarland, now 68, who had the TVT-O implanted in 2008 to treat urinary incontinence. Today, after an unsuccessful revision surgery, McFarland suffers pelvic pain, groin pain and dyspareunia. She also suffers chronic urinary tract infections and still has urinary incontinence that the mesh was supposed to have treated in the first place.
The verdict included $20 million in compensatory damages, including McFarland’s past and future pain and suffering. The jury awarded $100 million as punishment against J&J. Tracie Palmer, an attorney with Kline & Specter, PC, and lead counsel in the trial, told the news media that she hoped the jury’s verdict sent a clear message to J&J: "Take this product off the market for the health and safety of America's women." But J&J was hardly apologetic after the verdict, nor did it express a willingness to consider halting sales of the TVT-O vaginal mesh. Quite the opposite; after the verdict a lawyer for the firm insisted there was nothing wrong with the product, that it was properly designed and researched, and that J&J had no plan to stop selling it. The lawyer said J&J would appeal the $120 million verdict.
So the war over vaginal mesh devices will continue in courtrooms across the country until the mammoth pharmaceutical firm gets the message. The $120 million verdict was the largest to date of the vaginal mesh cases tried in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, with 90 more pending trial and thousands more waiting to get on the court docket around the country. And though the largest, the $120 million verdict was not the first. It followed a string of six other vaginal mesh verdicts in Philadelphia totaling $146 million, bringing the total damages awarded to $266 million over just the past several years. The $120 million verdict was the largest contested liability verdict in Pennsylvania history. It was also believed to be the largest mass tort verdict reached so far this year in the United States. All seven vaginal mesh verdicts in Philadelphia have been obtained by Kline & Specter, Pennsylvania’s largest plaintiffs’ firm with more than 40 attorneys, including five full-time doctor-lawyers, the most of any firm in the country.