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Washington suit against Ethicon over pelvic mesh implant begins Monday

By John Sammon | Apr 18, 2019

SEATTLE (Legal Newsline) – The lawsuit of Washington State’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson against Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Ethicon for selling a pelvic mesh implant to women that allegedly caused chronic pain, infections and medical complications will begin on Monday, another in a long line of lawsuits over the past several years that contend the implants are dangerous.

The proceedings will be streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network (CVN).

The pelvic mesh implant manufactured by Ethicon is supposed to support a prolapsed or sagging bladder. This case will feature state attorneys in the Kings County Superior Court (Washington state) arguing that the implants sold to women violated the state’s consumer protection laws and caused medical problems or extinguished sexual function.

Nearly 12,000 Ethicon implants were sold to women in Washington state, according to a CVN report.

Ethicon is part of the medical devices arm of Johnson & Johnson, a New Jersey-based conglomerate well known for its talcum baby power which in recent years has also generated lawsuits filed by women who claimed the powder was tainted with asbestos, causing them to develop ovarian cancer and in some cases mesothelioma. 

The implant device is a clear plastic-looking polypropylene mesh with connecting arms. Critics of the device say it is too large and causes the body to form scar tissue in efforts to reject it and that it also constricts, causing intense pain.

Allegations will include that the polypropylene mesh inflames pelvic tissue and that the device causes body erosion resulting in the formation of scar tissue. The tissue-mesh combination results in a foreign body reaction, plaintiff attorneys will allege. The inflammation works on the mesh fibers to contract the implant.

In past trials, plaintiff attorneys have maintained that less-invasive measures to deal with sagging bladder in women are available, for example the use of sutures rather than pelvic mesh.

Defense attorneys will argue that pelvic mesh devices are safe and effective and offer a less-serious solution to sagging bladder than major surgery.

Both sides will present their own expert witnesses and will try to undermine the credibility of the other side’s witnesses, questioning their experience and the amount of pay they receive to testify in court.

According to the CVN report, the case could result in a judgment in the tens of millions of dollars.

The trial will take place without a jury and will be presided over by King County Superior Court Judge Suzanne R. Parisien and is expected to take five weeks, CVN reports.

It will be closely watched by other states such as California, Mississippi and Kentucky, where similar cases are pending. Additional states could pursue litigation based on the outcome.

Former California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed suit against Ethicon that is set to start this July in San Diego and could result in a greater compensation award as more mesh implant devices have been sold in that state, approximately 42,000 between 2008 and 2014, the CVN report noted.

The Washington Attorney General's Office will use its own in-house attorneys. The representation of J&J and Ethicon will be handled by attorneys from O’Melveny & Meyers based in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office, Los Angeles-based Covington & Burling, and Calfo Eakes & Ostrovsky in Seattle.

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Johnson & Johnson Washington State Attorney General

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