(Reuters) — A U.S. judge Thursday urged transvaginal mesh device makers and the women suing them to work harder to resolve their 10s of thousands of lawsuits in 1 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 Judge Joseph Goodwin in Charleston, W.Va. The courtroom was packed with plaintiffs’ lawyers and representatives for the key defendants, including Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX), C.R. Bard (NYSE:BCR) and Johnson & Johnson‘s (NYSE:JNJ) Ethicon Inc.
More than 70,000 transvaginal mesh lawsuits against 7 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 2 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 raised 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. Yesterday, the 3 companies’ lawyers said they are ready to prepare 100s of additional cases for trial.
Goodwin praised American Medical Systems, a subsidiary of Endo International (NSDQ:ENDP), 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 3 main defendants, which each face a comparable number of cases.
Last December, Goodwin made headlines when he urged Bard to settle its mesh cases, prompting the company to launch an unsuccessful argument that the judge’s comments tainted the jury pool.