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Charleston becomes focal point for massive set of liability lawsuits

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Nearly 26,000 medical product liability lawsuits are being focused in Charleston beginning Monday in federal court.

Those cases involve injury claims against six manufacturers of vaginal mesh, a woven wire medical device used by many physicians to repair hernias, support organs and repair bladder and pelvic problems.

In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration issued an alert to doctors about possible serious complications that could arise from the use of that material. A flood of lawsuits alleging injuries have been filed - some of them originating in the Kanawha Valley.

On Monday, United States District Judge Joseph Goodwin will preside over the first "bellwether" cases in an effort to understand the principal issues that have come into litigation.

The outcome of four back-to-back trials will determine the next step in litigation for those thousands of nationwide cases.

It's not the first time Goodwin has agreed to tackle such a large challenge. He also presided over multi-district cases involving two drugs, Digitek and Serzone.

Local attorney Harry Bell said reining in those complicated lawsuits is no easy task, but he said it is noteworthy that the Southern District court and Goodwin have been selected again to do it.

Bell said, "It's a real impressive thing for West Virginia to be recognized to have the multi-district cases here. It's a feather in the cap for any judge assigned those cases.

"It's prestigious to be selected," he said. "It reflects well on you, your staff and your community. A lot of judges will go through their whole career and never get multi-district litigation."

Goodwin has the responsibility of coordinating mesh cases from courts around the U.S., understanding the core issues from both sides and determining how to proceed efficiently.  

That process streamlines the litigation when so many cases are similar, but not filed as a class-action lawsuit.   

Bell is on the plaintiff steering committee, and said the first cases are important to the overall process.

"We'll try some cases and get some verdicts," he said. "You try and select cases that are the most representative of all of them, that are relevant and helpful to all parties in evaluating what makes sense."

The trials will draw attorneys from some of the biggest firms across the nation.

A federal multi-district panel selected Goodwin most likely because of his handling of the Digitek and Serzone litigation.

Once, those cases might have been heard in large metropolitan areas like Washington, Los Angeles or New York City, but it became apparent that with so many lawsuits the load had to be sent out to judges in other areas who were capable.

The economic effect can be huge - initially with hotels and restaurants enjoying the fruits of the large number of attorneys and their staffs who will descend on Charleston. Later, the Southern District could fare well in terms of federal spending and allocation of resources if it discharges so many cases efficiently.

Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at or 304-348-4832.



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