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Business

Judge orders Johnson & Johnson to pay $344 million for ‘deceptive’ pelvic mesh marketing

Johnson & Johnson was ordered by a jury to pay $55 million to a woman who blamed her ovarian cancer on years of talcum powder use.
(Daniel Hulshizer / Associated Press)
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California sued Johnson & Johnson in 2016, alleging unfair competition and false advertising.

A San Diego Superior Court judge on Thursday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay almost $344 million in penalties, finding that the company had deceptively marketed its pelvic-mesh products.

In an 88-page ruling, Judge Eddie C. Sturgeon said he found that the company “marketed the benefits of its mesh products without fully and truthfully disclosing the accompanying risks and complications.”

The marketing, he found, was likely to deceive doctors and consumers about the risks.

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Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Mindy Tinsley said Thursday the New Jersey-based company will appeal the ruling, asserting California failed to present evidence to prove its claims.

The company’s Ethicon surgical products unit ”responsibly communicated the risks and benefits of its transvaginal mesh products to doctors and patients,” the company said in a statement.

The state of California sued the company in 2016, alleging unfair competition and false advertising. The judge’s ruling follows a nine-week bench trial last summer. Any penalties paid will go to the state attorney general’s office to fund consumer protection and enforcement.

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Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said in a news release issued Thursday that Johnson & Johnson “robbed” women and doctors of opportunities for informed decision-making.

“Johnson & Johnson knew the danger of its mesh products but put profits ahead of the health of millions of women,” Becerra said.

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His office said the judgment marks the first time a court has found that Johnson & Johnson engaged in “illegal false and deceptive business practices.”

The company has been sued multiple times over the surgically implanted devices, which are designed to treat stress incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse. Complications could include chronic pain and loss of sexual function.

The judge’s ruling notes that the trial included testimony from the medical director of a company subsidiary who said that the company knew at the product’s launch that it could cause severe, long-term complications, and that removal might be necessary, although it could be harmful and could require multiple surgeries.

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According to the attorney general’s office, from 2008 to 2014, Johnson & Johnson sold more than 470,000 pelvic mesh products across the country, including more than 30,000 in California.

State prosecutors said the company has faced more than 35,000 personal-injury suits related to the products. In October, Johnson & Johnson agreed to a $117-million settlement with 41 states and the District of Columbia over similar allegations involving the mesh devices.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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