Dallas County jurors last week spent about three hours deliberating before they awarded Martha Salazar $73 million, the largest amount of money any plaintiff has received so far in a vaginal mesh lawsuit. Most of the thousands of lawsuits that women have filed against Big Pharma over the devices are stuck in a federal court in West Virginia, but a few suits have escaped that slow system and have ended up in local civil courts, including Salazar's suit against Boston Scientific.
"I have not seen any device that I'm aware of that has a $70 million dollar verdict on a single case," says Tim Goss, one of Salazar's attorneys.
Most of that award, a whopping $50 million, was punitive -- given to Salazar to punish the defendant. Texas' business-friendly laws impose strict caps on punitive damages, and Goss estimates that the actual award for Salazar will be closer to $36 million after those laws go into effect on the ruling. Boston Scientific is also likely to appeal. Whatever amount Salazar finally ends up with from the courts, she'll get to keep about 60 percent of it, Goss says, and the rest will go to her attorneys.
Salazar, 42, was a healthy woman with a full-time job before she was underwent surgery to cure minor bladder problems, she said in her suit. Now, she says that she's in constant pain, a story repeated by the thousands of other women who had what they thought would be a minor, minimally-invasive surgery.
Salazar's being married also played a role in the award. The Mesh Medical Device news site breaks down how the jury came to the $73 million amount and shows that jurors gave Salazar's husband $1 million for loss of consortium. Jurors also gave the husband $515,000 for loss of household services.
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For Aaron Horton, the so-called "mesh warrior" patient activist we profiled in a May cover story, the $73 million remains an important symbol for her and the patients she works with, no matter how much of it Salazar actually gets to keep.
"For 12 jurors to come to a unanimous decision that that large of a punitive damage is necessary, is validation for all of these women," Horton says. "People have family members who don't believe they're in as much pain as they are. People have doctors who don't believe they're in as much pain as they are."
Horton has spoken with a few patients who told her that they received the mesh implants without giving consent to their doctors ahead of time. Rather, they told her that they were under the knife for another problem and woke up to find out that their doctors also gave them a mesh implant, "as if it's a good thing," Horton says, that the doctors "threw in for free."