Judge Urges C.R. Bard to Settle Thousands of Vaginal Mesh Lawsuits

In a rare move, a federal judge has urged device maker, C.R. Bard, to settle thousands of lawsuits brought over its vaginal mesh implants. According to Bloomberg.com, the move was made as juries are expected to potentially award billions of dollars in damages in the cases.

“I can’t imagine a corporation facing potentially billions of dollars in verdicts wouldn’t find it advisable to try to achieve a settlement for a much lesser sum,” U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin in Charleston, West Virginia, said at a December 9 hearing, according to a transcript. “I base that billions of dollars of business on some of the rather large verdicts that we’ve had,” the judge added, according to Bloomberg.com. The judge noted that the many multi-million-dollar verdicts that have been reached against a number of implant device makers, including C.R. Bard, should provide incentive for the device maker to, by 2015, resolve the more than 12,000 cases it faces.

For example, Endo International Plc agreed to pay more than $1.3 billion to resolve most of the more than 30,000 lawsuits brought over its implants. Johnson & Johnson pulled four of its vaginal implant lines globally and C.R. Bard pulled its Avaulta line of mesh inserts. In November, federal juries in Florida and West Virginia ordered Boston Scientific to pay a total of $45.2 million in damages to eight women. In September, a Dallas state court jury ordered the device maker to pay $73 million in damages to one woman and a West Virginia jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $3.27 million to another woman. In August, a federal court jury in West Virginia ordered C.R. Bard to pay a woman $2 million in damages over her vaginal-mesh injuries.

Judge Goodwin is taking what has been described as “the almost unprecedented step” of warning C.R. Bard executives that they are risking C.R. Bard’s future by not resolving its pending litigation, Carl Tobias, who teaches product liability law at the University of Richmond in Virginia, told Bloomberg.com. “Bard has to take this very seriously because the judge is saying these cases could expose it to the kind of liability that could be the end of the company and result in a bankruptcy filing,” noted Tobias. “It’s very rare for a federal judge to warn shareholders about the consequences of management failing to resolve lawsuits,” he added, according to Bloomberg.com. Judge Goodwin is overseeing all of the federal litigation involving the vaginal implant devices.

In October, C.R. Bard agreed to settle 500 lawsuits for approximately $21 million. In filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the device maker also indicated that it faces significant financial exposure over the claims and that over 12,400 lawsuits over vaginal mesh devices have been filed in state and federal courts, Bloomberg.com indicated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) previously ordered a number of device makers, including C.R. Bard, Johnson & Johnson, and Boston Scientific Corp, to study rates of organ damage and complications associated with the devices following increasing injury reports and mounting lawsuits. The FDA also stated that the devices should be subject to more stringent safety requirements, Bloomberg.com reported.

At a hearing on information exchanges for 500 cases being prepared for trial, Judge Goodwin said that C.R. Bard officials should be concerned given recent jury awards against vaginal mesh implant makers, according to Bloomberg.com. “I find it to be a material fact that five different state forums have, on average, returned verdicts of over a million dollars per plaintiff,” the judge noted. The judge has also expressed his frustration with the length of time settlement talks are taking, noting that some cases have been pending for five years. Of note, Johnson & Johnson continues to refuse to consider settling cases brought over its devices, wrote Bloomberg.com.

“If I were a stockholder of any of these companies, I would be materially interested in the fact that there have been multiple million-dollar verdicts for individual plaintiffs,” Judge Goodwin said at this week’s hearing. He also noted his surprise that investors have not put more pressure on device maker officials, Bloomberg.com reported.

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