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Jury awards woman $7.76 million in damages for J&J mesh

By Dave Warner and Ransdell Pierson

(Reuters) - A New Jersey jury Thursday ordered Johnson & Johnson and a subsidiary to pay $7.76 million in punitive damages to a South Dakota nurse who claimed she was harmed by the company's vaginal mesh.

Together with earlier compensatory damages, the decision means J&J and its Ethicon subsidiary would be responsible for paying Linda Gross, 47, of Watertown, South Dakota, some $11.1 million.

J&J said in a statement that it plans to appeal the decision and that the punitive damages were unsupported by the evidence.

The product, before being taken off the U.S. market last year, was used to treat pelvic organ collapse, a condition for which Gross was treated in July 2006.

The Atlantic City case is the first of about 1,800 lawsuits against J&J in New Jersey, the company's home state. In addition, there are 11,000 other claims pending against several other manufacturers in a federal case in West Virginia, according to Florida attorney Bryan Aylstock.

"Linda Gross cannot turn back the clock and make her misery and pain disappear," her attorney Adam Slater said after the verdict, adding that the jury decided that J&J and its Ethicon unit "should be severely punished financially."

The lawsuit, in Atlantic City Superior Court, was brought by Gross in November 2008. It alleged that the Gyncare Prolift vaginal mesh was not safe and that J&J and Ethicon were liable for, among other things, defective design, manufacture, warnings and instructions.

According to Ben Anderson, a plaintiff attorney in the case, the jury did not find a design defect, but did determine that there had been a failure to warn Gross's doctor of the hazards, and that there was a fraudulent misrepresentation of the procedure in patient brochures.

Anderson said Gross has had 18 surgeries in which doctors attempted to remove the mesh, and more than 440 doctor office visits.

Morningstar analyst Damien Conover said Thursday that the litigation does not pose a huge financial risk for J&J.

"From an investment standpoint, I don't think it's going to be too damaging," he said, adding that plaintiff attorneys usually pick the best cases to go first, and they are usually not representative of the entire group of patients who sue.

J&J shares closed down about 0.3 percent to $76.11 on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Dave Warner, and Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Maureen Bavdek, Phil Berlowitz and Richard Chang)

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