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April 16, 2019

Attorneys Raking In Fees On Pelvic Implants Lawsuits

The New York Times recently reported that almost $8 million in settlements is being paid out by several medical device manufacturers to rectify the claims of over 100,000 women who had received a pelvic, or transvaginal, mesh. This is considered to be one of the most extensive mass tort legal proceedings in US history, due to the sheer number of claims filed, the countless corporate defendants and the settlement amount.  


Pelvic mesh implants came into fruition ten years ago as a solution for women’s health issues relating to the bladder pressing against the vagina. Soon after, however, women began reporting problems such as intense pain and bleeding.  Advertisements geared at women who had undergone the procedure began to pop-up. Lawyers then recruited women in droves to begin legal proceedings against the medical device manufacturers. The outcome? They bit off more than they could chew.  The massive lawsuit is not panning out as anticipated - the settlements women are receiving are less than have been demonstrated in other similar proceedings, being on average $60,000 or less.

Once the personal injury lawyers' fees are applied, the settlement amounts dwindle down even more. In this particular case, it is most notably due to the lawyers' fees which are exceptionally high.  Some lawyers have been able to take 40%, even 45%, from each settlement as a result of confidential documents and retainer agreements. Throw in lavish expense allocations for meals, hotel accommodations, and private plane travel, and you can just imagine how the settlement amounts have decreased. For one recipient, having received a higher payout of $140,000, for example, watched as it shrank to $50,000 after fees and expenses were lopped off.


Let’s compare similar mass tort litigation settlement payouts to that of the pelvic mesh:


  • 10-years ago the drug manufacturer for Vioxx established a fund close to $5 billion, paying out an average of $147,000 to over thirty thousand litigants. In this case, the judge limited the lawyers' fees to 32%.
  • Four years ago, Biomet paid $79,000 on average to less than 2,000 litigants for faulty hip implants.
  • In 2013 almost eight thousand claimants in a Johnson & Johnson faulty hip implant product received an average of $250,000 per person from a settlement of $2.5 billion


Looking closer at some of the settlement agreements in the pelvic mesh case, we begin to see just how disproportionate the amounts are.  A $244.7 million settlement was negotiated with Johnson & Johnson with 4,000 claimants receiving an average of $59,000 in settlements. In an agreement with Boston Scientific 3,400 women received an average payout of $53,000 before fees were applied.  Around half of the women received $13,000 or less and only 800 women had offered of $100,000 or more.


Why is the pelvic mesh case notable?  Mainly because of magnitude complainants in comparison to the settlement amounts being received.  In accordance with court filings, thirty-two women have gone to trail in both federal and state courts.  Of those, twenty-four have received a verdict in their favor for a total of $345 million in awards. The average award has been fourteen million. I think we can agree, that a forty percent lawyer fee in a multimillion-dollar payout is perfectly understandable. In settlement cases, however, this seems a bit much.

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