Transvaginal Mesh Verdicts Encouraging for Plaintiffs

In November 2014, two different juries handed down back-to-back awards for plaintiffs in transvaginal mesh lawsuits against the Massachusetts-based Boston Scientific Corp. While this is certainly encouraging news for plaintiffs, the consecutive losses in the first two federal trials for the company could potentially drive up the cost for settling the thousands of similar lawsuits pending. Currently, there are over 24,000 mesh claims in U.S. state and federal courts pending against Boston Scientific.

A Miami jury awarded $26.7 million to four women fitted with Boston Scientific's Pinnacle device designed to alleviate pelvic organ prolapse. Only one week later, a jury in West Virginia awarded $18.5 million in damages to four women implanted with the company's Obtryx stress urinary continence device. The award included $4 million for "gross negligence."

Of the damages awarded by these juries, large percentages were compensatory damages. The purpose of compensatory damages is to reimburse a plaintiff for financial losses related to their injury- for example, lost income and medical expenses. Typically, compensatory damages are a dependable indicator of the value of similar claims, and will withstand the appeals process better than punitive damages, those designed to punish a defendant, which are subjective in nature. This could be especially unpleasant for Boston Scientific's bottom line.

Each plaintiff in the Miami verdict received between $6.5million and $6.7 million, whereas each women in the West Virginia trial received between $3.25 million and $4.25 million in compensatory damages. And while the amount of compensation varies with each case, it is noteworthy that different juries awarded millions to each plaintiff.

The outcomes of bellwether trials do not ensure each women will win her case. However, they do indicate to plaintiffs and defendants how juries determine the worth of the cases, and this information is crucial in establishing a settlement value for the other claims. Furthermore, large verdicts give companies incentive to settle out of court. U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin in the Southern District of West Virginia, who is supervising the federal mesh cases, is attempting to expedite the settlement process by trying cases with several plaintiffs and mandating that hundreds more suits are ready for trial as early as next year.

Boston Scientific is only one of seven companies facing approximately 67,000 federal mesh cases. Other defendants include C.R. Bard and Johnson & Johnson's Ethicon Inc., all of whom have experienced a combination of wins and losses.

Boston Scientific, who reportedly has $945 million in litigation reserves, plans to appeal the verdicts and declined further comment.