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As California adds to the list of pharmaceutical makers it’s suing for fraud, the potential payoff for plaintiff firms is growing, too. In an amended complaint filed Thursday, the state added 38 defendants to a state false-claims suit against two companies that California first joined in 2003. California claims it paid artificially inflated reimbursements for patients covered by the state’s Medi-Cal program because the defendant drug companies reported “excessively high and false” prices. Prosecuting the case alongside Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s office is a coalition of plaintiffs firms. They represent the whistle-blower in the litigation, a Key West, Fla., pharmacy called Ven-A-Care, that would reap a share of any recovery the state collects in the case. If all goes well for the state, it might recover “tens of millions of dollars,” said Ven-A-Care’s lead counsel, attorney James Breen of the Breen Law Firm in Alpharetta, Ga. The attorney general’s office said in a statement that the state may have lost hundreds of millions of dollars. Breen, who has been working on false claims cases for Ven-A-Care for more than 10 years, said he has assembled a number of firms across the country to help his client pursue whistle-blower cases. In California, Breen estimates, it was more than three years ago that he tapped Burlingame’s Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy, along with two Los Angeles firms, Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack, and Girardi and Keese. So far, the in-state firms have done some investigation and worked with the attorney general’s office to draft the complaint and put a discovery plan together, said Bruce Simon, a name partner at Cotchett, Pitre. The Breen Law Firm, as well as Philadelphia’s Berger & Montague, has filled more of a coordinating role, Simon added. Breen declined to describe the plaintiff lawyers’ fee agreement in the California litigation, saying he was not sure it had been made public. Typically, such lawyers sign a contingency contract that says they get a percentage of any money the whistle-blower collects through the suit, Breen said. Under California’s False Claims Act, whistleblowers in such cases can get up to 33 percent of the money the government recovers, plus attorneys’ fees and costs. Ven-A-Care has already seen some success outside California. In other cases it’s involved in, three defendants have settled with government entities � for $14 million, $18.5 million and $27 million, respectively, Breen said. In each instance, Ven-A-Care got about 20 percent of the settlement, he said. Despite the million-dollar nature of the prosecutions, Breen says the attorneys don’t earn as much as some plaintiffs lawyers in other big-ticket litigation, such as mass torts. “There’s a significant degree of public service that goes into these cases,” he said. The case now has 39 defendants, because one of the original companies named no longer appears on the complaint. Simon said that only one of the remaining defendant companies has appeared in court, represented by Jones Day. But many of the same defendants are being sued in other whistle-blower or class actions before the same federal judge in Massachusetts, and they have attracted a crowd of defense firms.

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