PELVIC MESH CASE STUDY: 4 OF 5 PLAINTIFFS FROM OUT-OF-STATE
The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas has a smaller docket of cases targeting manufacturers of pelvic mesh devices, which are used to treat or control bladder incontinence, a common condition in women after childbirth and as they age. Plaintiffs allege that the devices deteriorate and can cause harm. Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Ethicon has lost five mesh-related cases in Philadelphia since December 2015, with cumulative damages exceeding $105 million.
In April 2017 J&J was hit with a $20 million verdict for an out-of-state plaintiff, including $17.5 million in punitive damages. That award was soon eclipsed by another Philadelphia case that resulted in an astounding $57.1 million award – $7 million in compensatory damages plus $50 million in punitive damages. That was a rare case brought in Philadelphia on behalf of a Pennsylvania resident.
Then, just when it seemed Ethicon had actually won its first Philly mesh case brought by an Ohio plaintiff this past summer, the trial judge intervened to overturn the verdict and order a new trial to award the plaintiff damages.
By the onset of fall 2017 there were about 130 cases on Philadelphia’s mesh docket, a review of which reveals that roughly 4 of every 5 plaintiffs (101 of the 130) do not live in Pennsylvania. They come to Philadelphia from 26 states and from as far away as Anchorage, Alaska. More plaintiffs live in neighboring New Jersey, which in recent years has become less welcoming to mass torts, than Pennsylvania.
The Philadelphia docket includes quite a few plaintiffs from Texas, but none from nearby Connecticut, Maryland, or West Virginia, and few from Delaware or New York. The overall percentage of out-of-state mass tort claims in Philadelphia may be even higher. An analysis of 3,643 prescription drug lawsuits filed in the CLC from January through May 2017 found that 94% were filed for plaintiffs outside Pennsylvania—a 20% increase from 2016. Clearly, some plaintiffs’ lawyers believe their clients will get better results in Philadelphia, while others remain in their home states.
Judge New issued a late-summer 2017 order in the Philly mesh litigation, indicating that he is considering dismissal of mesh cases brought by out-of-state plaintiffs in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court jurisdictional decisions limiting the ability of state courts to exercise jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants when a claim is not connected to the state (see related Closer Look, p. 64). Following those U.S. Supreme Court rulings, three out-of-state plaintiffs suing Boston Scientific in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas withdrew their mesh lawsuits with the intention of refiling them in Delaware, where Boston Scientific is incorporated.
But Shanin Specter, of Kline & Specter, which has brought most of the mesh lawsuits in Philadelphia, has indicated that he has no intention of voluntarily withdrawing any of the cases his firm is pursuing on behalf of out-of-state plaintiffs. Mesh defendants, meanwhile, have urged the Philadelphia court to dismiss the out-of-state claims, observing that, “Plaintiffs’ sole connection to the commonwealth is their lawyers’ choice to file suit in this court.”