By Dave Warner
ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) - A jury on Monday said Johnson & Johnson should pay a South Dakota woman $3.35 million for failing to adequately warn her doctor of the potential dangers of a vaginal mesh implant made by the company's Ethicon Inc subsidiary, and for misrepresenting the product in brochures.
It was the first verdict among some 1,800 vaginal mesh cases pending in New Jersey against Ethicon and J&J, and could have an impact on thousands of lawsuits against other manufacturers of vaginal mesh implants.
The jury verdict, by a panel of six women and three men in state Superior Court in Atlantic City, New Jersey, followed a six-week trial.
The Ethicon product, before being taken off the U.S. market last year, was used to treat urinary incontinence and pelvic organ collapse, a condition for which the plaintiff, a nurse, was treated in November 2008. That condition happens when tissue that holds the pelvic organs in place is weak or stretched and bulges into the vagina. There are different types of this prolapse condition, which usually occurs after menopause, childbirth or a hysterectomy.
The lawsuit, in the court of Judge Carol Higbee, was brought by Linda Gross, 47, of Watertown, South Dakota, in November 2008. It alleged that J&J and Ethicon were liable, among other things, for "their defective design, manufacture, warnings and instructions" and that the Gyncare Prolift vaginal mesh was not safe.
Gross filed her lawsuit following a 2006 surgery to install a Gyncare Prolift for pelvic prolapse. She alleged the surgery led to a variety of complications, including mesh erosion, scar tissue, inflammation and "neurologic compromise to ... structures and tissue."
She said she had to seek medical treatment and 18 operations to repair the damage caused by the mesh.
"It is the most significant women's health litigation in American history," said Ben Anderson, the lawyer representing Gross. "It is a strong statement to Johnson & Johnson and Ethicon that they cannot put profits before women's safety."
After the jury delivered its verdict, the judge went to her chambers to decide whether to allow a hearing on punitive damages. She was expected to decide that matter later today.
A spokesman for J&J declined to comment while the judge was considering whether to allow a new trial phase.
(Reporting by Dave Warner; editing by John Wallace)