Opinion

Alison Frankel

Who will lead J&J hip replacement MDL?

Alison Frankel
Aug 25, 2011 22:40 UTC

In the next day or two, W. Mark Lanier of the Lanier Law Firm will file a letter with Dallas federal judge Ed Kinkeade outlining the reasons why he should lead what Lanier believes will become a huge mass tort: the multidistrict litigation over DePuy’s Pinnacle hip replacements. More than 300 personal injury suits accusing the Johnson & Johnson unit of failing to warn patients about design defects in the best-selling product have been filed in federal courts around the country and consolidated before Judge Kinkeade. Lanier made a preemptive play to take charge of the MDL, proposing that he and a handful of other well-known mass tort veterans head up a broadly inclusive plaintiffs steering committee. But instead, in an August 10 order, Judge Kinkeade threw open the leadership contest with a call for plaintiffs firms to respond to a long list of questions about their experience in big cases.

“It’s an interesting situation,” Lanier told me. “You’ve got the usual crew of mass tort lawyers who’ve done this rodeo time and time again. And then you’ve got a new crew of Dallas lawyers who are looking to be in leadership roles because they know the judge, know the Dallas system.”

Lanier’s allies include Edward Blizzard of Blizzard McCarthy & Nabers; Richard Arsenault of Neblett Beard & Arsenault; Kenneth Seeger of Seeger Salvas; and Paul Hanly of Hanly Conroy Bierstein Sheridan Fisher & Hayes. Blizzard told me that coalition is holding together, “but what I took from Judge Kinkeade is that he’s going to make his own decision.” The judge, who has never before presided over an MDL, has said he may even interview candidates to lead the case.

Notably absent from the contenders’ ranks is Ellen Relkin of Weitz & Luxenberg – but that’s because she’s already co-lead counsel in the other DePuy hip replacement MDL. Yes, that’s right: the Pinnacle litigation is a younger brother to the year-old MDL over DePuy’s ASR hip replacement. Johnson & Johnson recalled the ASR implants a year ago, and that MDL already includes more than 2,000 cases. Relkin and her co-lead counsel, Steven Skikos of Skikos Crawford Skikos & Joseph, previously led the Ortho Evra birth control MDL before the Cleveland federal judge who’s overseeing the ASR case, David Katz. Judge Katz picked Relkin and Skikos from among dozens of plaintiffs lawyers who filed applications.

The big question, according to Lanier, Relkin, and Blizzard, is how the two DePuy hip replacement MDLs will differ. Obviously, they involve different products, only one of which was recalled. J&J has been proactive about complaints by patients with ASR hip replacements. As Reuters reported earlier this week, the company reached out to doctors who used the ASR products and, in a controversial move, brought in a consultant, Broadspire Services, to administer patient claims for replacement surgery. (Ed Blizzard calls Broadspire, a health insurance management company, “a spy for J&J.”)

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

Alison Frankel
Aug 17, 2011 22:14 UTC

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.

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