Over the last few months, Johnson & Johnson has settled nearly 70 of 100 cases filed against their medical device, the power morcellator. Additionally, attorneys for plaintiffs state there are “another 40 morcellator cases” ready to be filed. Plaintiffs allege the device, which uses blades to cut tissue during surgery, can spread cancer cells through the abdominal cavity. Victims allege the company recklessly disregarded human life by negligently misrepresenting the device. Furthermore it failed to test its effects, failed to warn consumers, and failed to recall from the market.
In October 2015 the claims against Johnson & Johnson were consolidated in an MDL in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. As of March 2016 there are 31 morcellator lawsuits pending in federal court regarding the controversial device. The power morcellator is an electric, minimally invasive device, resembling a drill with large blades at the end. It is used during hysterectomies, certain kidney surgeries, and spleen surgeries to remove non-cancerous growths, usually fibroids. Doctors make small incisions to use the device’s blades to shred tissue into small fragments which are then removed. This method was favored the healthcare industry because the use of small incisions speeds up the healing process in patients.
In 2014 the FDA warned that the risk of cancer spread after being treated with the device is one in 350. This is because the device has the potential to cut up cancerous tissue and spread it throughout the abdominal cavity. Thus making it more difficult to treat. Over 50,000 surgeries are performed each year using the power morcellator. It is estimated that over 150 women a year will have their cancer spread following its use. While women with uterine fibroids are routinely screened for uterine cancer in order to prevent cancer spread, a rare form, leiomysarcoma, is often undetectable in preoperative testing.
In response to the allegations, Johnson & Johnson claims the morcellators “have always included cautions in their instructions for use about the potential spread of malignant tissue.”. Plaintiffs, however, claim they were not properly warned about the defective device. This issue was raised recently in a wrongful death action filed on March 15 in Northern Illinois. The plaintiff filed the claim on behalf of his wife. She died three years after undergoing a hysterectomy where a morcellator was used. She was diagnosed with leiomysosarcoma.
The amount Johnson & Johnson paid in its confidential settlements to individual women depend on factors like the woman’s age, medical condition, and whether she had children. According to medical experts, many women and their families never discover why they developed the deadly cancer. This is because the families failed to recognize the connection between the cancer and the morcellator.