Mesh-injured women win class action case

Amanda Lyons

21/11/2019 3:59:42 PM

The verdict came after years of pain and suffering for many women who received transvaginal mesh implants.

Women embrace
Women embrace outside the Federal Court in Sydney following the judgement. (Image: AAP)

‘Never at any stage was I told that this device is permanent and if something went wrong, that it would be very difficult to remove it. I mean, it’s likened to taking a passionfruit vine out of a chicken coop.
‘By 2013, I was being hospitalised regularly. By 2015, I couldn’t get out of bed.’
These are the words of Justine Watson, a woman who was so severely injured by her pelvic mesh implant that she essentially lost a decade of life to the physical and mental health problems that resulted.
Justine and many women like her were vindicated by the outcome of a class action brought against manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and related companies Ethicon Sarl and Ethicon Inc.
The landmark judgement, in which Justice Anna Katzmann found that the manufacturers and suppliers of the mesh had engaged in misleading conduct and negligence, brought many of the 30 mesh-affected women present in the Federal Court in Sydney to tears.
‘At all relevant times all the Ethicon devices had a defect, all such times all the devices were also unfit for purpose for which they were required,’ Justice Katzmann said.
‘All the devices carried risks of complications … against which no adequate warnings were given.’
Justice Katzmann also found the evidence showed many of the complications from which women were at risk as a result of the mesh were common. These included:

  • chronic inflammatory reaction
  • erosion of mesh into surrounding organs
  • infection
  • chronic pain
  • pain with sex
  • incontinence
  • damage to surrounding tissues
  • haemorrhage
  • leg weakness
  • further surgery
  • psychological injury.
Justice Katzmann also criticised the Therapeutic Goods Administration for approving the use of the devices in Australia without conducting its own checks, but rather on the basis of its approval for use in the European Union.
Much revealing evidence was heard during the trial, including an excerpt from a 2005 email by French pelvic mesh device inventor, Dr Bernard Jacquetin, in which he wrote, ‘I would not want my wife to undergo this procedure. And I don’t think I’m alone in that’.
In the wake of the judgement, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Urogynaecological Society of Australasia issued a joint statement supporting the actions of the women in taking the mesh manufacturers to court.
‘We believe it is unacceptable that some women with mesh complications have received inadequate or inappropriate treatment from doctors,’ the stated.
‘We are actively supportive of improved training for doctors and government regulation of medical devices to ensure the highest standards of patient care are achieved and maintained’.
Earlier this year, a Federal Court judge allowed a potential expansion of the number of women able to claim damages based on trial evidence presented about the risks posed by the mesh.
More than 90,000 devices were inserted into patients to treat stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, and Shine Lawyers estimates there could be as many as 5500 women additional to those registered for the class action who may be experiencing mesh injury complications.
Prior to the delivery of the judgement, Justine Watson told the Newcastle Herald, ‘We hope that the conclusion of this case will bring much deserved validation and recognition and remuneration for the suffering of so many women and their families’.
Ethicon has said in a statement that while it empathises with women who have experienced complications from transvaginal and pelvic mesh, it believes the product has improved quality of life for ‘millions’ of others.
‘Ethicon believes that the company acted ethically and responsibly in the research, development and supply of these products,’ it stated, adding that it is considering its options to appeal the Federal Court decision.

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