If you have been following the news in relation to pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, you would likely be aware of the class action in the Australian Federal Court relating to its faulty pelvic mesh implants.[1]

Ethicon Sarl v Gill [2021] FCAFC 29

The class action was commenced on behalf of thousands of Australian women who have been left with life altering complications after receiving Johnson & Johnson vaginal mesh or tape implants[2].

The original trial began on 4 July 2017 and concluded in February 2018.

The claim alleged that:

  • the implants were defective and not fit for purpose;
  • the information and warnings that accompanied the implants did not adequately disclose the nature and severity of the risks; and
  • the implants caused significant and sometimes severe and life-altering complications including erosion and chronic pain.

On the 21st of November 2019, the Federal Court handed down its judgment on the class action against Johnson and Johnson Medical, Ethicon and Ethicon Sàrl (the Respondents), in favour of the thousands of women affected by faulty vaginal mesh or tape implants.

The Federal Court ordered pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson to pay almost $2.6 million in damages to the three representative applicants implanted with faulty pelvic mesh implants.

In April 2020, the Respondents appealed the judgment of Justice Katzmann. The appeal has was heard by the Full Court of the Federal Court in early February and their decision released today dismissed the Respondents’ appeal against the landmark judgment!

Pelvic mesh implant background [3]

The pelvic mesh, also known as transvaginal mesh, was implanted into the pelvis for a variety of conditions, usually pelvis organ prolapse and stress urinary incontinence.

The devices were banned in 2017 and a senate inquiry in 2018 found women were “ignored and treated appallingly”.[4]

Federal Court Justice Anna Katzmann last year said the evidence in the case was “overwhelming” and the devices were not tested properly. It was also found that the companies responsible knew they did not have sufficient data to show the implants were safe. During the trial, the court heard of a “tidal wave” of aggressive marketing to surgeons and patients that suggested implanting the mesh was a “quick and easy operation”.[5]

Federal Court Justice Anna Katzmann found Johnson & Johnson were “negligent”, driven by commercial interests, and failed to give appropriate or sufficient remedial action once it knew of problems with the implants.[6]

This is a significant decision in Australia’s class action history and for women’s health generally.

[1] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-03/johnson-and-johnson-damages-for-vaginal-mesh-implants/12021908

[2] https://www.judgments.fedcourt.gov.au/judgments/Judgments/fca/full/2021/2021fcafc0029

[3] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-03/johnson-and-johnson-damages-for-vaginal-mesh-implants/12021908

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.