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.