Vaginal mesh implant used in pelvic surgery. Courtesy of Boston Scientific

Australian women win lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson

Pelvic implant side effects cause lifelong pain

Over 1,350 women in Australia won a seven-year-long court case against pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson regarding pelvic mesh implants that caused long-term pain in some patients. 

The implants were supposed to resolve pelvic floor damage typically seen during childbirth, but the victims suffered debilitating side effects as a result of the default mesh or tape implants.

While removing the pelvic implants is possible, it does require surgery. The surgery could result in further damage or worsening of the pain, TeleSUR reported.

“They have treated women essentially like guinea pigs, lied about it and done nothing to help,” the original claimant Julie Davis said in a media conference outside of the court in Sydney, according to Reuters.

Kathryn Gill, Diane Dawson and Ann Sanders brought the class action to The Federal Court of Australia in 2012. The court found on Nov. 21 that J&J was negligent and responsible for the women’s side effects. 

“The risks were known, not insignificant, and on the respondents’ own admission, could cause significant and serious harm if they eventuated,” The Federal Court of Australia said in an official statement on Nov. 21, according to TeleSUR

Gill, Dawson and Sanders all described the effects of the faulty mesh implants as extremely painful. Pain “so bad she struggles to breathe,” one explained. The other two described “excruciating pain across her buttocks, pain deep inside her vagina, and pain that radiates down her leg” and “chronic pain and multiple other symptoms.” 

The women described being “frightened about what the future holds” due to the pain they now face, according to TeleSUR

The Federal Court of Australia Judge Anna Katzmann believes J&J made “false representations” and provided “inaccurate” information about the pelvic implants and how safe they were. “The question is whether this conduct considered as a whole was misleading or likely to mislead,” Katzmann said in her judgement, according to TeleSUR. “I believe it was.”

Subsidiary Ethicon, which worked with J&J on the pelvic mesh implant product, is being held responsible alongside J&J in the lawsuit. 

“The post-market evaluation of all the Ethicon devices was deficient,” Katzmann said in her judgement, according to TeleSUR. “It fell well below the level of care required of a reasonably prudent manufacturer. The risks were known, not insignificant and on Ethicon’s own admission, serious harm could ensue if they eventuated.” 

In an official statement, Ethicon claimed to have acted responsibly and said they did properly test and evaluate the mesh implants before they were provided to the public. “Ethicon believes that the company acted ethically and responsibly in the research, development and supply of these products,” the statement said, according to Reuters. Ethicon’s statement went on to say the company would be looking to appeal the case.

Shine Law Firm has been leading the case since 2012. “It has been a long journey to get here through this legal process,” commented Shine Lawyers’ Special Council for Class Actions Rebecca Jancauskas, according to Reuters. “We have fought hard to have these women’s voices heard as they’ve struggled with the chronic pain and complications from their mesh and tape implants.” 

Including the women in the United States, Canada and Europe who have also filed lawsuits in relation to the pelvic mesh or tape implants, the number of women affected is above 8,000. While no final settlement has been reached, J&J and Ethicon will most likely pay out millions of dollars, according to TeleSUR. 

According to Al Jazeera, 41 claims throughout the U.S., especially the District of Columbia,  were awarded nearly $117 million in Oct. 2019. 

J&J has been involved in over 50,000 lawsuits over the past few years for several of their pharma products, including hip implants, talc and blood thinners. Forbes estimates the lawsuits cost J&J approximately $6 billion.

The New York Times reported there is also expected to be a number of new lawsuits filed against J&J in relation to the U.S. opioid crisis after a $572 million lawsuit was settled in Oklahoma in 2019. The Oklahoma lawsuit decided J&J had undersold the dangers of opioids