Johnson & Johnson agreed to resolve four cases over its vaginal-mesh implants, including one being tried this week in Missouri, in the company's first settlements of allegations that the devices harmed thousands of women.
The details of the settlements are confidential, said Adam Slater, a lawyer for the Missouri women who settled their state-court claims that the inserts made by J&J's Ethicon unit left them in pain. The devices are used to bolster sagging organs and to treat incontinence.
J&J since 2012 has steadfastly refused to join settlement talks between plaintiffs' lawyers and other insert makers seeking a global resolution of the litigation, said Carl Tobias, who teaches product-liability law at the University of Richmond in Virginia. J&J currently faces more than 23,000 suits over the devices.
"It's only four cases, but it's a start," said Tobias, who has been following the vaginal-mesh litigation. "There's still a long way to go to get the whole thing resolved."
The company's agreement to resolve the four cases isn't an admission that it engaged in any wrongdoing in connection with the development or marketing of the mesh, J&J said.
"Lawsuits are examined individually in light of the individual nature of the claims," said Samantha Lucas, an Ethicon spokeswoman. "In some individual cases, the company may consider whether settlement is appropriate."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered J&J, Boston Scientific Corp. and other vaginal-mesh makers in 2012 to study rates of organ damage and complications linked to the implants after the companies faced a wave of suits over the devices.
The women contend, for example, that the mesh in Ethicon's Prolift insert erodes, or shrinks, once it's implanted and damages organs, causing constant pain and making sexual intercourse difficult. J&J agreed in June 2012 to pull four lines of mesh inserts off the market, including the Prolift.