Johnson & Johnson, facing almost 24,000 lawsuits over its vaginal-mesh implants, withdrew a claim that women got calls from strangers who knew their personal medical information and asked them to file fraudulent cases.
The world’s largest maker of health-care products gave no explanation in a one-sentence motion abandoning its Jan. 14 filing in the federal court handling the multi-district litigation in Charleston, West Virginia.
Callers used personal data protected by the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and encouraged women to sue J&J regardless of whether they suffered injuries caused by the mesh, the company said.
J&J and its Ethicon unit face lawsuits by women who had the devices implanted to shore up weakened pelvic muscles or control urinary incontinence with so-called bladder slings. Women said in lawsuits that the mesh later caused organ perforation, pain, scarring and nerve damage.
“Unscrupulous groups and individuals” are stoking a spike in unwarranted lawsuits against the company over the inserts, J&J said in the Jan. 14 filing. “We have significant evidence of overt fraud.”
A J&J spokesman, Ernie Knewitz, didn’t immediately return phone calls and an email on the company’s withdrawal of the filing.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin in Charleston is overseeing all federal mesh litigation against J&J, C.R. Bard Inc. and other insert makers. Cases have been consolidated before him for pretrial information exchanges.
Goodwin has been pushing manufacturers to consider settling the cases before they face billions of dollars in damages.
One of the lead plaintiffs’ lawyers, Bryan Aylstock, said an “independent, detailed and thorough sampling process failed to reveal even a single fraudulent filing” in the litigation.
Lawyers for injured women “have pledged to work together to investigate and attempt to put an end to any wrongful solicitation of clients,” Aylstock said in an email.
More than a half-dozen women contacted J&J to say phone solicitors urged them to file claims, according to the Jan. 14 filing. They were erroneously told by the callers that J&J disclosed their private medical information, the company said.
“Women across the nation are receiving unsolicited phone calls from strangers who are seeking — or, more disturbingly, already know — their very personal medical information,” J&J said. “These individuals, who on some occasions may call as often as 50 times a month, try to entice each woman into filing a lawsuit, oftentimes disregarding whether she has an injury or even had a mesh implant at all.”
The company said an Indiana woman recorded a phone solicitor urging her to file a suit even though she never had a device implanted. After she told the caller it would be a lie to say she had undergone mesh surgery, the caller was undeterred, according to a transcript filed in court.
“I do understand, but you have to tell a lie if you want to get the $30,000 up to $40,000,” the solicitor said, according to the transcript.
Juries in Texas, Florida and West Virginia have found that J&J’s, Bard’s and Boston Scientific’s inserts were defectively designed and the companies failed to warn women properly that they might damage organs and make sex painful. The panels awarded more than $135 million in damages in those cases.
In the Jan. 14 filing, J&J urged Goodwin to take steps to weed out the fraudulent cases such as forcing plaintiffs to produce medical records showing injuries and asking their lawyers about the solicitations.
The case is In Re Ethicon Inc. Pelvic Repair System Products Liability Litigation, MDL 02327, U.S. District Court, Southern District of West Virginia (Charleston).