A San Diego Superior Court judge has ruled that Johnson & Johnson (J&J) should pay $344 million in damages after they deceptively marketed and misrepresented the risks of transvaginal pelvic mesh implants used to treat stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
J&J was accused of making false or misleading statements about the safety of vaginal-mesh products in magazine ads, on the internet and in brochures. The company also made thousands of sales calls where officials deceived doctors in regards to the risks of the implants at meetings or dinners.
"Johnson & Johnson knew the danger of its mesh products but put profits ahead of the health of millions of women," said the attorney general, Xavier Becerra. Deputy attorney general, Jinsook Ohta insisted that J&J were aware of the risks of the product before they were brought to the U.S. market in 1998.
Following mass complaints last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stopped the sale of pelvic mesh to treat organ prolapse. J&J did withdraw some of its vaginal mesh products from the market in 2012, following complaints by thousands of women that the product eroded over time and caused significant pain and injuries. Though, many of its manufacturers continued to sell the implants.
The most common complaint from women with mesh implants has been bleeding, searing pain and painful sexual intercourse. While some have undergone surgeries to remove the implants, a number of those operations had other complications. Shockingly, several doctors, consultants and lawyers tried to profit from the growing concerns surrounding mesh implants. Last year, The New York Times reported that federal prosecutors in Brooklyn indicted a doctor and a marketing consultant in a kickback scheme which lured women with mesh implants to undergo removal surgery, even in cases where the products were causing no issues or harm.
The company has faced more than 100,000 lawsuits over the products, though most of those cases were settled. Officials in Washington agreed to a $10 million settlement last year. This is a landmark case for the state of California, which is the first of the states to sue J&J and get its case to trial.
In total, J&J had 153,351 violations of the state’s unfair competition law and 121,844 violations of false advertising statutes brought against the company. The payment ordered “represents less than 1% of J&J’s $70.4 billion total net worth and is not unconstitutionally excessive or disproportionate,” the judge said in his ruling.