CHARLESTON, West Virginia (Reuters) - A U.S. judge Thursday urged transvaginal mesh device makers and the women suing them to work harder to resolve their tens of thousands of lawsuits in one of the biggest U.S. mass torts in history.
"I'm going to kick it into high gear and ask that you do the same," said U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin in Charleston, West Virginia. The courtroom was packed with plaintiffs' lawyers and representatives for the key defendants, including Boston Scientific Corp, C.R. Bard and Johnson & Johnson's Ethicon Inc.
More than 70,000 transvaginal mesh lawsuits against seven companies have been consolidated before Goodwin, and additional cases continue to be filed.
Goodwin said it would take decades to try all the cases, cost millions of dollars in fees and put the lawsuits' fates in the hands of unpredictable jurors. But, if no settlement emerges, he promised he would send them to trial as quickly as possible.
The judge's comments kicked off two days of intensive court-supervised meetings with key officials and counsel for the companies, along with lead lawyers for women who say they have been injured by mesh devices, used to treat stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
The companies facing the most cases – Bard, Ethicon and Boston Scientific – have each been hit with multimillion dollar verdicts for women who said the mesh caused painful infections, bleeding and other complications. The size of those verdicts has ratcheted up the pressure to settle.
The companies stand behind the devices and deny that they are defective. Ethicon and Boston Scientific also notched some victories in early trials. On Thursday, the three companies' lawyers said they are ready to prepare hundreds of additional cases for trial.
Goodwin praised American Medical Systems, a subsidiary of Endo International Plc, for deciding to settle. The company said last year it would set aside up to $1.6 billion to resolve 20,000 lawsuits. That figure suggests the high stakes for the three main defendants, which each face a comparable number of cases.
Danish company Coloplast A/S has also settled a substantial chunk of the nearly 2,000 mesh lawsuits against it.
Reporting by Jessica Dye in Charleston, West Virginia; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Richard Chang