4 Jul 2017

Australian surgical mesh lawsuit begins

11:02 am on 4 July 2017

More than 700 women are taking on pharmaceuticals giant Johnson & Johnson in a major class action lawsuit starting today in Australia's Federal Court.

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Photo: 123RF

The case, expected to last six months, will involve women who claim their lives have been ruined by a vaginal medical device made by Johnson & Johnson.

It is designed to treat common complications from childbirth.

The firm behind the class action, Shine Lawyers, claimed about 8000 women could have been affected by mesh and tape surgical implants used to fix pelvic-floor damage from prolapse and incontinence.

The true number of Australia women affected is the subject of a senate inquiry. Estimates range from 3000 to 30,000 women.

Shine Lawyers senior counsel Rebecca Jancauskas said her clients had been left "suffering painful and life-altering complications".

"The trial begins the journey towards justice for Australian women," she said.

"We hope that compensation will be recovered for these women to allow them to provide for the future treatment that they need to rectify the devastating injuries they have suffered."

Johnson & Johnson has sold more than 100,000 mesh and tape implants but said that did not equate to the number of women affected.

In its submission to the federal senate inquiry, the company said the use of implantable mesh was supported by clinical research and was often the preferred option to treat pelvic conditions, including incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.

It was "not able to detail the total number of women that have had transvaginal mesh implants, the number who have experienced adverse side effects nor the number who have made attempts to have transvaginal mesh removed [in Australia or elsewhere]".

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, a support group that opposes the use of surgical mesh says surgeons are still using it without fully informing patients about the risks.

Ms Jancauskas said many Australian women had their lives forever changed physically and psychologically as a result of the implants.

"The complications include the mesh eroding into their tissue and organs, and includes incontinence, infection and chronic pain," she said.

One of the women in the class action, Louise King, said the implants ended her ability to be intimate with her husband.

"Now my whole body is wracked in pain and I have had to give up my dream job," she said.

"When we tried to make love, it was excruciating," she said.

Shine is also running a second class action against another manufacturer with a similar number of claimants.

Ms Jancauskas said none of the products had been recalled and some still remained on the market.

Shine's barrister Tony Bannon SC will present opening submissions. Johnson & Johnson's lawyers will present their opening submissions on 10 July.