Australian pelvic mesh victims launch their case against Johnson & Johnson

Gai Thompson: "They just kept saying sorry, but I was the only complaint they had." Photo: Fiona Morris
Gai Thompson: "They just kept saying sorry, but I was the only complaint they had." Photo: Fiona Morris

Gai Thompson is in no doubt about the significance of the first day of a landmark Australian court case by more than 700 women against Johnson & Johnson that starts on Tuesday.

“But at the end of the day we’re not going to get our lives back,” Mrs Thompson said. “No amount of money will make up for what we’ve suffered.”

Shine Lawyers will launch one of Australia’s largest product liability class actions against Johnson & Johnson and allege its pelvic mesh implants have left thousands of women suffering painful and life-altering complications.

At least 16 Hunter women are registered as claimants.

Half the women are alleging serious injury after pelvic surgery for incontinence using five varieties of Johnson & Johnson’s TVT implants and the other half are seeking damages after they were implanted with the company’s Total Prolift and Total Gynemesh devices following prolapse after childbirth.

Shine Lawyers special counsel Rebecca Jancauskas said the class action was “a significant case in the judicial landscape” that was expected to run for six months.

“Our case is that the TVT implants cause complications that are not experienced with alternative treatments for stress incontinence,” Ms Jancauskas said.

The case will hear evidence that warnings and product information did not adequately identify complications or the difficulty of rectifying them.

“Australian women have had their lives changed forever by these products. Many now live in excruciating pain, suffering terrible side effects that impact all aspects of their lives.

“In many cases they are even unable to be intimate with their partners. It has had truly devastating consequences,” Ms Jancauskas said.

Shine barrister Tony Bannon, SC, will present opening submissions from Tuesday to Friday and Johnson & Johnson will respond with an opening submission on Monday.

In June the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists controversially backed traditional midurethral “slings” such as the Johnson & Johnson TVT in a position statement after years of controversy about pelvic mesh surgery. 

It conceded failure can lead to “intractable” and permanent complications for women and have “severe effects” on quality of life.

Mrs Thompson was implanted with the Johnson & Johnson Prolift device in February, 2008.

Her life from that date had become “a living nightmare”, she said.

“People just do not understand what you have to live with and there’s nothing you can do.”

The Herald, Newcastle