California court upholds, reduces settlement against Johnson & Johnson over pelvic mesh implants

One of the several and varied reasons why so many Americans are hesitant or disinclined to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine is the fact that the major pharmaceutical companies producing them have a history of downplaying or lying about the potential complications and harms that arise from the use of their products.

One such example is Johnson & Johnson, which was just affirmed as liable by a California appeals court for distributing false or misleading information and marketing about its pelvic mesh implants for women, the Associated Press reported.

The appeals court panel upheld a lower court’s ruling finding a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, Ethicon, at fault for deliberately deceiving doctors and the general public about the known risks posed by its product, but did reduce the assessed amount of penalties from $344 million to about $302 million.

The lies

In 2020, Johnson & Johnson had appealed a ruling from California Superior Court Judge Eddie Sturgeon and raised a number of different arguments in opposition to the $344 million penalties the judge had ordered, a total figure derived from a combination of fines for the hundreds of thousands of ads and informational brochures Ethicon had distributed over the course of many years.

In an 82-page ruling, California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals upheld Sturgeon’s ruling and knocked down all of Ethicon’s arguments except one.

Presiding Justice Judith McConnell wrote that the distributed written information about the pelvic mesh implants “falsified or omitted the full range, severity, duration, and cause of complications associated with Ethicon’s pelvic mesh products, as well as the potential irreversibility and catastrophic consequences.”

The appeals panel did agree, however, with Ethicon that there was insufficient evidence to prove that its agents and salespersons had been deceptive or misleading in their oral communications with doctors and the general public. Thus, the fines imposed for thousands of alleged violations of that sort were struck and removed from the total assessed penalty.

Several years in the making

Reuters reported that Johnson & Johnson announced its intent to appeal this latest decision, continued to insist that neither it nor Ethicon did anything wrong, and said that both companies had “responsibly communicated the risks and benefits of its transvaginal mesh products to doctors and patients.”

The lawsuit had initially been filed in 2016 following a multistate investigation into Johnson & Johnson’s deceptive and misleading marketing for the pelvic mesh implants, which are used to treat bladder incontinence and other similar issues. The investigation also led the Food and Drug Administration to order all such products removed from the market in 2019.

Numerous other lawsuits have also been filed against Johnson & Johnson and other manufacturers of the products, and more than $7 billion total has already been awarded in numerous settlements. One of those was in the amount of $117 million and involved 41 states plus the District of Columbia.

The California lawsuit was separate from that joint suit involving the other states, and the $302 million settlement ordered is reportedly among the largest ever on record for such a case.

Meanwhile, the AP noted that Johnson & Johnson is also fighting against other lawsuits involving the harmful side effects of some of its other products, a class-action suit alleging that its famous baby powder causes cancer in women, as well as the role that it played in helping fuel the opioid epidemic in America.

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