Blogger: Weitz & Luxenberg got $92.5 ml pot for Seroquel clients

By Alison Frankel
August 17, 2011

AstraZeneca’s approach to the 28,000-case litigation over its antipsychotic Seroquel has been notable for two things. First, the pharma company was incredibly successful in court. It won pre-trial dismissal of hundreds of state and federal suits blaming Seroquel for causing diabetes and more serious injuries and got a defense verdict in the one Seroquel case that made it to trial. Second, AZ has been notoriously secretive about settling the remaining cases. AZ reached private deals with plaintiffs firms that controlled big Seroquel dockets, offering token amounts of money to plaintiffs in exchange for their lawyers agreeing to drop out of the litigation. The company disclosed settlements in blocks, finally announcing in late July that it had reached agreements in principle to resolve all but 250 Seroquel suits for a total of $647 million — a small fraction of what plaintiffs lawyers once hoped they’d get.

The last big holdout on the plaintiffs side of the litigation was Weitz & Luxenberg, an asbestos powerhouse that had one of the biggest Seroquel dockets in the country. Weitz fought harder and sank more resources into Seroquel cases than any other firm; partner Paul Pennock was still insisting the cases would yield big settlements even after he lost the first (and, as it turns out, only) Seroquel trial, a New Jersey state court case that went to a defense verdict in March 2010.

Weitz apparently capitulated earlier this summer, agreeing to settle its 2,300 remaining cases. And last week, the Seroquel Lawsuit blog posted what purports to be the letter Weitz & Luxenberg sent to its Seroquel clients, announcing the group settlement and explaining the allocation process. According to the letter, AZ offered Weitz & Luxenberg a $92.25 million pot to divide amongst its clients. Clients were given three options: they could sign up for a quick $12,000 payment; they could present the facts of their case to a special master for an individualized payment that could be less than $12,000; or they could reject the offer and endanger the entire settlement, which depends on the participation of 98 percent of Weitz & Luxenberg’s clients.

“We strongly believe [the framework] is fair and reasonable and offers each of our clients the best possible outcome under the circumstances of this litigation,” the posted document said. “Based on public reports regarding settlement programs reached with other plaintiff law firms we are confident that the settlement program outlined below has more favorable terms and for this reason we are recommending your participation.”

I should say up front that Paul Pennock of Weitz & Luxenberg told me the posted letter is not a scanned or photocopied version of the letter his firm sent its Seroquel clients. He also said the posted letter “makes characterizations that are completely inaccurate,” though he said he could not address specifics because he is bound by a confidentiality agreement. “[The letter] is not describing what is happening in our resolution,” Pennock said.

I also, however, spoke with the Seroquel Lawsuit blogger, who insisted on anonymity. He is not a Weitz & Luxenberg client, he said, but received the purported W&L letter from a Weitz client who e-mailed the blogger that he was “disgusted” with the settlement offer.

The blogger told me he developed diabetes and experienced other side effects after he was prescribed Seroquel for “situational depression.” He has been urging Seroquel plaintiffs to reject settlement offers and push ahead with litigation against AstraZeneca because he believes plaintiffs lawyers haven’t adequately represented victims’ interests. “Who are they working for? They’re not working for their clients. That’s a miscarriage of justice,” he said. In his own case, he told me, he signed a retainer agreement with a firm that advertised for Seroquel clients, but then turned those clients’ files over to another firm that handled the litigation. He said he has struggled to obtain information from the second firm, which hasn’t responded to his questions about his own case. “That’s a bad model,” he said. “It encourages this kind of stuff.”

AstraZeneca, meanwhile, didn’t offer a direct response to my question about the authenticity of the posted letter. Spokesman Tony Jewell sent this e-mail comment: “We cannot comment on the financial terms of the settlement as they are confidential.”

The letter certainly reads like it was drafted by lawyers who’ve spent long years litigating Seroquel claims, to little avail. “As you know, we have engaged in a long legal battle with AstraZeneca over the past 6 years,” it said. “Weitz & Luxenberg led the charge for the plaintiffs around the country. AstraZeneca put up a tremendous and expensive defense and they successfully were able to get a large number of cases to be permanently dismissed by the court. Weitz & Luxenberg is the only firm who took a case to trial anywhere in the country As a direct result of the endless and consistent pressure applied by the attorneys at Weitz & Luxenberg, we are happy to report that AstraZeneca has now agreed to participate in a favorable settlement program.”

After detailing the two possible tracks for claimants — fast track to $12,000 and individualized special master track in which payouts will depend on the number of claimants — the letter notes that Weitz will be collecting attorneys fees on the settlements. “The terms of your signed contingency fee agreement will be in effect,” it said.

In a separate post Tuesday, the Seroquel Lawsuit blogger added commentary deriding the letter, Weitz & Luxenberg, and the “secret backroom dealings” in which the firm’s lawyers “were selling our clients down the river.”

“REJECT AstraZeneca’s disgraceful Seroquel settlement offer-demand justice, fairness, and accountability,” the blogger wrote.

Pennock of Weitz & Luxenberg said in response that it’s “a shame. Someone who isn’t even a client is trying to derail something that’s going to make a real difference in people’s lives. I don’t think that’s right.”

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6 comments

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My problem is that I get SSI paymaents and on state health insurance. I just do not see a way that I can go any further with this lawsuit because I am in fear that I will lose my benifits. As a single disabled mother $12,000 just is not worth losing what little bit I have, which by the way might be about 5 or 6 thousand dollars. Although that money is very much needed right now. I just wish there was a way.

Posted by Stidum | Report as abusive

I originally signed up with Weitz&Luuxenburg they had all my medical information for 2 years and did nothing, then I get a mailing from a different law firm named Matthews&Associates that they were now handeling my case and I now know that the first firm sold my case to the second for a cut but, here is what I don’t understand, is that Weitz & Luxenburg got 92.5 million and there only giving there first tier clients 12,000.00 yet, Mattews & Associates got over 44 million and are giving there first tier clients 15,000.00. However, all of these lawyers are playing the same game with all the unethical deductions except for the fact that, the cases that were bundeled, those clients are told they have to pay not only 1/3 to there original council but, another 1/3 to the council they were given to at settelment which there are laws protecting consumers from this kind of thievery. Astra-Zeneca and these type of lawyers have been lying to their clients because there are lawyers who are taking Serequel cases on an individual basis depending on how severe your case is and that in the U.K. Astra-Zeneca doesn’t seam to be carrying as much buying power. I myself by the grace of God and my Family, who kept a constant vigil by my bedside in the ICU while I lay dying in a diabetic coma fighting for my life and that was after I had already had gone into cardiac arrest twice, then took a heart attack, then a stroke,went into renal failure , lost all my electolytes and needed 6 blood trasfusions but,I made it after a long battel back so, I ask anyone who reads this, I was given this medication for insomnia not FDA LABELED APPROVED, HOW MUCH IS YOUR LIFE WORTH? SAY NO TO THIER DEAL AND CALL YOUR STATE’S ATTORNEY AS WELL AS THE STATE’S ATTORNEY WHERE EVERYONE OF THESE CROOKS PRACTICE AND REPORT THEM BECAUSE MAYBE FOR ONCE THEY’LL GET THE MESSAGE THAT WE MAY BE SICK AND WE MADE BE DISABLED BUT, WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE GOING OUT FIGHTING FOR WHAT IS RIGHTFULLY OURS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by echoe | Report as abusive

Although I haven’t suffered as badly as you have, I agree totally with your thoughts on the matter. I signed up for litigation with one lawyer, only to have my info transferred to another attorney. It has been over 1-1/2 years and I have heard nothing about my case. This is the very first I have ever seen about Astra-Zeneca agreeing to settle any amount with anyone. And yes, for the number of individuals involved, the amount suggested is absolutely criminal. I too was prescribed Seroquel for what my Doctor deemd as moodiness and sleepessness. And she upped my dosage from 20mg to 5omg after a short period of time. I noticed that as soon as I began taking it my blood sugar spiked. Two years of questioning and all she did was talk in circles. No answers. I have never had high blood sugar in my life. It doesn’t appear to run on either side of my famlilies. Once I stopped taking it ,after reading about the side effects of Seroquel, my doctor diagnosed me with Type2 diabetes. It has been an uphill battle ever since. I can get noone to respond to my calls,emails,etcSeems as though I have been swept under the rug and forgotten about. Probably until at least the time limit has expired….two years.
Not once did she ever tell me about the possiblities of Seroquel causing me to become a diabetic. Now I have to watch everything I eat and take Metformin twice a day plus prick my fingers twice daily after each meal. It flat stinks. I can’t even get re-imbursed for the meds that I now have to take…nothing. And yet Asrta-Zeneca has made billions off of this drug. Just goes to show….he who has the money, makes all the rules. Welcome to Corporate America where that almighty dollar rules everything. It is sickening. Soemone needs to be held accountable. And now. it won’t do anyone any good once they are deceased. I pray for you. David.

Posted by rracer619 | Report as abusive

Seroquel killed my son, but not before he developed diabetes, gained close to 200 lbs.in and out of the hospital in diabetic coma’s, bouts of pancreatitis. Months in ICU.over a period of 9 years. It killed his pancreas! This whole thing is just evil. I would like to know how many people who work for Astra Zenaca and that can include their family members. How many are on Seroquel? Law firms handling the cases… Are you or your loved ones on seroquel?? You know why you are not on it! It can make you very sick! It can kill you! Medicaid footed the bill. So we have all paid. Their wont be any money left.

Posted by justdivin01 | Report as abusive

THE SETTLEMENT IS A JOKE, THE DAMAGE IS PERMANENT AND AstraZeneca GETS OFF WITH A BAD REVIEW ! IT KILLED AND MAIMED HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE, WE DIDN’T SPILL HOT McDEE COFFEE IN OUR LAPS! THEY ‘HURT AND KILLED’ US, AS FOR MYSELF I CAN’T WALK, THATS AFTER A HEART ATTACK FROM 1200-MG A DAY OF PRESCRIBED SEROQUEL FOR CHRONIC INSOMNIA !, FIRST IT’S THE WEIGHT GAIN, OH, YOU WILL LOOSE THAT YOU ARE TOLD ITS A SIDE EFFECT, THEN FOLLOWING LIVER PROBLEMS YOUR TEETH GO BRITTLE , EDEMA CAN MY MOUTH BE ANY DRIER? ETC. NO ! IT DOESN’T STOP, WHY DO APPOINTED PEOPLE IN OUR GOVERNMENT ALLOW THIS? AstraZeneca MADE BILLIONS ON THIS DRUG ALONE!, PAID LOTSA TAX BUT WOW 10K!.. I MADE THAT IN TWO MONTHS WORK BEFORE SEROQUEL RUINED ME AND MY LIFESTYLE! MY FRIENDS GRANDFATHER WAS A ASBESTOS VICTIM, ALL THE FAMILIES IN THAT GOVERNED SETTLEMENT COLLECT 25K FROM ‘EACH’ SETTLEMENT, NOT JUST THE ONE, WERE LIKE PEOPLE IN THE U.S. SERVICES THAT DO THEIR JOB GET HURT AND COME HOME MISSING PIECES AND RECEIVE NOTHING!, THATS UNCONSTITUTIONAL !, LAW IN OUR GOVERNMENT: WHEN ANYONE COMMITS MURDER THEY DO NOT GET A FINE THEY PAY WITH AT TIMES WITH THEIR LIVES, HEAR US LIKE WHEN WE STEAL MONEY OR FAIL TO PAY OUR TAXES, GO GET AstraZeneca & CHANGE ‘THEIR’ LIVES AS THEY CHANGED OURS, MAKE’EM HURT! I DO ‘EVERY DAY’, GO HAVE THEM PAY US VICTIMS WHAT IS FAIR IN THIS COUNTRY! WHERES THE JUSTICE IN THIS LAWSUIT?

Posted by BIGSCHMOE | Report as abusive

I think we should had got pay more its ashame lawyers comes out ahead and we are the ones sick and suffering

Posted by vanessam1964 | Report as abusive