ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - (Mealey's) A New Jersey court on Feb. 28 ordered the Ethicon Endo-Surgery Inc. subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson to pay $7.76 million in punitive damages to a woman who claims to have debilitating injuries from a Gynecare Prolift pelvic sling, sources told Mealey Publications (In Re Pelvic Mesh / Gynecare Litigation, No. 291, Linda Gross v. Ethicon, No. ATL-L-6966-10, N.J. Super., Atlantic Co.).
The punitive damages awarded to Linda Gross by the jury in the Atlantic County Superior Court are in addition to the $3.35 million in compensatory damages the jury awarded Feb. 25 in New Jersey's first pelvic mesh bellwether trial.
In a statement issued today, an Ethicon spokeswoman said the punitive damage award is "unsupported by the evidence presented at trial.'' She said Ethicon "will vigorously pursue an appeal."
In the compensatory verdict, the jury found that Ethicon inadequately warned Gross's surgeon of the Prolift's risks and misrepresented the device to the plaintiff. However, the jury also found that the Prolift was not defectively designed and that Ethicon made no misrepresentation to the surgeon.
In 2006, Gross was surgically implanted with the Prolift device, also known as a pelvic sling or vaginal sling, to treat pelvic organ prolapse. Afterward, Gross claimed, the mesh hardened inside her and eroded through her vaginal wall.
Gross alleged that she has had to undergo multiple surgeries to remove pieces of the mesh, which she says has caused pain that makes it difficult for her to sit for long periods of time. In 2008, Gross sued Ethicon in the Superior Court, where the state's multicounty pelvic mesh litigation is centralized.
Gross alleged that the device was defectively designed, that the defendant failed to provide adequate warnings to her doctor about the device's risks and that Ethicon made a fraudulent misrepresentation to her and her doctor about the device.
Defense: Proper Design, Warnings
Gross sought compensatory damages for pain, suffering, lost wages and medical expenses.
Ethicon argued that the Prolift device was properly designed and that it adequately warned doctors about the device's risks.
Judge Carol E. Higbee ordered that the compensatory and punitive damage claims be tried in separate phases.
In its Feb. 25 statement after the compensatory verdict, Ethicon said "While we are always concerned when a patient experiences medical conditions like those suffered by the plaintiff, all surgeries for pelvic organ prolapse present risks of complications."
The trial began Jan. 10. The jury deliberated five days before returning the compensatory verdict. The jury began hearing the punitives phase on Feb. 26.
Last year, Ethicon stopped selling pelvic mesh devices, including the Prolift.
Gross' counsel represents 82 other clients on the Ethicon docket of New Jersey's pelvic mesh multicounty litigation. The docket includes claims involving similar devices by C.R. Bard Inc.
Federal litigation involving at least five manufacturers, including Ethicon, has been centralized in a multidistrict litigation.
Gross is represented by Adam Slater and David Mazie of Mazie, Slater, Katz & Freeman in Roseland, N.J. Ethicon/Johnson & Johnson is represented by Christy D. Jones and William Gage of Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens & Cannada in Ridgeland, Miss.
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