For the first time in history, a multi-district litigation committee has been created that is comprised of more women than men. The committee appointments, made by US District Judge Kathy Vratil, center around the current multidistrict litigation regarding power morcellators manufactured by Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon unit.
Power morcellators are under fire for their role in spreading un-diagnosed uterine cancer cells throughout a woman’s abdomen while undergoing various gynecological procedures. The issue has raised the attention of everyone from Congress to the FBI as allegations seem to indicate that morcellator manufacturers may have been aware of the risks their devices posed to patients, yet chose to continue marketing them.
MDL committees are formed based on the recommendations of the lead attorneys involved with a case. Attorney Paul Pennock, a co-lead counsel on the litigation along with attorney Aimee Wagstaff, was inspired to propose the majority-woman committee by a talk given by Judge Vratil herself.
In a story published in the National Law Journal (subscription required), attorney Pennock reflects on that talk. He says that “she spoke very pointedly about the lack of women in leadership on all of these MDLs historically.”
If there was going to be a case to change that, it was going to be this one. Women across the country, led to believe that the minimally invasive surgery would be far less harmful to their bodies than the standard surgery, have instead recoiled in horror as they’re told that they are now in the throes of an aggressive cancer. Perhaps even worse, they are presented with the knowledge that it was the surgery that might have upstaged it; gravely affecting their prognosis.
Pennock contacted attorney Wagstaff with one thing in mind – creating, for this litigation, “a PSC (plaintiffs steering committee) with a majority of women, which has never happened.”
Rebecca King, one of the attorneys proposed as a member of the committee by Pennock and Wagstaff and approved by Judge Vratil, is encouraged by the focus on women’s points of view on these types of cases.
“I think we’re seeing a lot of women’s health issues in these various mass torts over the past few years,” she says. “It’s necessary to involve women because we bring a woman’s perspective to the case. We can identify with these clients in a way that’s unique.”
This is truly an historic occasion and Lopez McHugh lauds the development as a step in a direction that should have been taken long ago. In the history of mass torts and multidistrict litigation; in the thousands and thousands of cases presented over history, that this is the first time the majority of a committee has been comprised of women rather than men is cause for celebration, but also reflection.
The first female lawyer in the United States was Arabella Mansfield. She was admitted to the Iowa bar in 1869; 146 years ago. We hope that 146 years was long enough, and female majorities will start to be seen on all types of cases; not just those specific to women’s health issues.