USA – A California appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that Johnson & Johnson must pay the state penalties for deceptively marketing pelvic mesh implants for women, but reduced the amount by US$42 million to US$302 million.

Johnson & Johnson filed an appeal in 2020 after Superior Court Judge Eddie Sturgeon imposed a US$344 million penalty on Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Ethicon.

After a non-jury trial, Sturgeon discovered that the company made misleading and potentially harmful statements in hundreds of thousands of advertisements and instructional brochures for nearly two decades.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal in California ruled on Monday that the company’s US$42 million in penalties for sales pitches to doctors were unjustified because there was no evidence of what the sales representatives actually said.

The appeals court, however, stated that Sturgeon presented ample evidence that Ethicon knowingly misled both physicians and patients about the risks posed by its products, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

According to Ryan Carbain, a Johnson & Johnson spokesperson, the company will appeal the appeals court ruling to the state Supreme Court.

The instructions for use in all of the company’s pelvic mesh implant packages “falsified or omitted the full range, severity, duration, and cause of complications associated with Ethicon’s pelvic mesh products, as well as the potential irreversibility and catastrophic consequences,” the appeals court’s Presiding Justice Judith McConnell said in a 3-0 ruling upholding the US$302 million in penalties.

She rejected the company’s claim that the fine was excessive, claiming that it amounted to less than 1% of Johnson & Johnson’s US$70.4 billion net worth.

The products, also known as transvaginal mesh, are synthetic and surgically implanted through the vagina of women who have sagged pelvic organs or suffer from stress urinary incontinence when they cough, sneeze, or lift heavy objects.

Many women have filed lawsuits against the New Jersey-based company, claiming that the mesh caused severe pain, bleeding, infections, discomfort during intercourse, and the need for surgery to remove it.

The condition is estimated to affect 3% to 17% of women, and it can become severe after the age of 70.

Johnson & Johnson, the world’s largest manufacturer of health-care products, is fighting additional lawsuits over drug side effects, its role in the opioid epidemic in the United States, and allegations that its baby powder caused cancer in some users.

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