The Heavy Burden – How Hernia Mesh Devices Have Ruined Lives
Hernia repair surgery is one of the most common operations in the United States. Over 1 million hernia repairs are performed each year. Many of these procedures involve the implantation of surgical mesh to reinforce the hernia repair and prevent recurrence. But for countless patients, what was supposed to be a straightforward surgery has evolved into a nightmare.
Once viewed as a miraculous innovation, hernia mesh has been linked to debilitating complications in thousands of patients. As problems emerged over the years, major mesh manufacturers found themselves the subject of a flooding tide of lawsuits. Patients who had been irreparably harmed sought justice.
This article will provide a comprehensive overview of the rise of hernia mesh litigation, from the devices’ inception to the average payouts plaintiffs have received in settlements and verdicts. It will also look at how decisions made in corporate boardrooms impacted the lives and health of so many unsuspecting patients.
A Revolution and Its Repercussions
The 1950s marked a turning point in hernia repair techniques. Surgeons began shifting away from suturing techniques like the popular Shouldice and Bassini repairs. These more involved procedures had higher recurrence rates. Surgical mesh offered an appealing alternative.
Synthetic mesh implants provided reinforcement to contain abdominal protrusions. This was meant to eliminate tension on repair sites and strengthen abdominal walls. By the 1990s, mesh repair became the standard of care. Use accelerated in the early 2000s as both open and minimally invasive procedures integrating mesh were introduced.
Leading the mesh revolution were medical device giants like Ethicon, C.R. Bard, and Atrium Medical. Their mesh products, fabricated from polypropylene, were aggressively marketed to hospitals and surgeons. In a span of two decades, mesh repair went from obscurity to an assumed prerequisite of hernia surgery.
No one could have predicted the troubles that lay ahead.
As early as 1999, patients started coming forward with accounts of agony and impairment following mesh implantation. They reported recurrent hernias, mesh erosion through tissue, unbearable pain, infections, and mobility issues. Many required multiple follow-up surgeries to correct worsening complications. Some were left permanently disabled, unable to work or participate in daily life.
Lawsuits Begin Mounting
By the early 2010s, enough patients had come forward that the most troubling statistics could no longer be ignored. One study found mesh complication rates as high as 43 percent within 5 years of implantation. A health watchdog group reported over 10,000 mesh complication incidents to the FDA from 2005 to 2015. It became clear these devices had unleashed a healthcare crisis.
Legal teams started building cases against mesh manufacturers in 2010, rallying patients to speak out. Class action lawsuits coalesced around claims that mesh makers had actively concealed their products’ risks. Patients asserted that they would never have consented to mesh implantation had they known potential outcomes.
C.R. Bard faced its first multi-plaintiff lawsuit in 2012, just the beginning of the deluge to come. Class actions against Ethicon followed, as well as Atrium Medical, Boston Scientific, and other manufacturers. In under a decade, over 100,000 lawsuits were filed against mesh makers by patients dealing with dire health struggles. Most legal claims centered on negligent design, failure to warn, and misrepresentation.
Hernia Mesh Lawsuit Payouts As Financial Punishment for a Preventable Tragedy
The first major trial victory came in 2012, when a California jury awarded Christine Scott $5.5 million in her lawsuit against C.R. Bard. Jurors determined that the manufacturers had failed to adequately warn doctors and patients of mesh risks. Thousands more favorable verdicts and settlements would follow.
Mesh injury victims have been awarded compensation ranging from $50,000 to well over $1 million in individual cases. Much depends on the unique circumstances of the plaintiff’s case. Minor injuries may lead to payouts on the lower end, while serious debilitation merits substantial damages. The largest settlements are typically reached in multidistrict litigation (MDL) consolidating thousands of cases. Here, average hernia mesh lawsuit payouts are between $120,000 to $200,000 per person.
Punitive damages further punish mesh makers for conduct deemed reckless, intentionally malicious, or grossly negligent. Punitive awards have ranged from a few million into the billions in aggregate. In 2018, a jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $117 million in payouts and $30 million in punitive damages to a single plaintiff.
While money provides a means for plaintiffs to pay for ongoing medical treatment, it does little to undo the suffering mesh has inflected for over 100,000 affected individuals. Many still require regular medication and surgery to manage chronic pain and mobility limitations. Life plans, careers, independence – all permanently altered due to the permanent injuries caused by defective devices. No dollar amount could ever make up for this reality.
A Long Road Still Ahead
Current litigation focuses on cases against mesh titans Ethicon and C.R. Bard, acquired by Johnson & Johnson and Becton Dickinson respectively. Settlement talks continue as corporations likely seek meaningful resolution to ongoing bad press and financial hits. However, hernia mesh usage remains widespread despite known risks and issues.
Hernia repair techniques and best practices continue to evolve. There is a place for mesh done right, with innovative biomaterials and minimal invasion. Today’s standards leave far less room for negligence on the part of medical device makers. Patients must stay vigilant and educated on the procedures recommended for their care. For those still paying the price for past disregard, the path forward remains long. Their stories serve as a reminder of the cost born when profit takes priority over patient wellbeing.