Mark Lanier. (Courtesy photo)
Winning a $1 billion jury verdict against a major company would be the pinnacle of most lawyers’ careers. W. Mark Lanier of The Lanier Law Firm in Houston—whose biggest trial win clocked in at a whopping $9 billion—isn’t most lawyers.
Lanier notched his latest billion-dollar victory last week, when a jury in Dallas awarded $1.04 billion to six plaintiffs from California who challenged the safety of a hip implant made by Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Orthopaedics Inc. unit.
He has now tried three bellwethers in the hip implant litigation, losing the first in 2014 and winning the second in March 2016 with a $502 million jury verdict for a group of five plaintiffs from Texas. That award was revised downward to $150 million under Texas law.
After his latest win, Lanier said the facts paved the way for an easy victory. Still, he took aim at J&J and its lawyers at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, saying they used the press to pressure the Dallas federal judge overseeing the hip cases. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Have you ever sat down and counted up the total dollar value of your winning verdicts over the years?
I’m embarrassed to say that I would do something so narcissistic and petty, but yeah I did. I confess. I’m between $12 and $13 billion at this point.
How does this latest trial compare with your past cases?
I’d love to take credit for some great, huge, hard-to-believe win. But the bottom line is, in spite of the media machine that Johnson & Johnson pumps, these are easy cases. This company was flat wrong, they did some horrible things and their best appellate point is, ‘Gee, the jury shouldn’t be allowed to know everything we did.’ That’s pretty pathetic.
How would you rate J&J’s defense efforts?
They’ve got the best lawyers and witnesses that money can buy. Money has been no object to them. They’re just playing cards that are really tough cards. I think the lawyers are exceptional. It’s been an honor to stand in the courtroom with them; it’s been a challenge to stand in the courtroom—they pull every good defense lawyer trick there is to try and obfuscate and all the rest of that mess, and we just fight it.
You’ve said you’re surprised that J&J hasn’t yet settled. What stands out to you about the company’s approach?
I’ve never seen anyone try to manipulate the media as much as they have. They try to intimidate the judge by saying caustic things about him in media accounts and in their press releases. They try and poison the well with the appellate court, the Fifth Circuit, and try to align the Fifth Circuit through their manipulations of the press. And I’ve never seen that before—I don’t know if that’s the Skadden Arps way, I don’t know if it’s the Johnson & Johnson way. But that’s the part that has stunned me and it’s seemed different than everything else.
It’s almost a Donald Trump saga. We live in an age now, with Donald Trump, where I guess it’s OK to take out after judges, it’s just OK to take out after people with stuff that just never would have been said. I mean, what Donald Trump said about the judge in the Trump University case—that is not, historically, the way people handle lawsuits; you don’t use the media to try and get your public points across. So, I don’t know, maybe it’s a sign of the times.
[Note: Johnson & Johnson lawyer John Beisner at Skadden had this response to Lanier's comments: "The companies have appropriately addressed what we believe are errors in the trials, and we stand behind the previous statements. The last two verdicts from the same courtroom perfectly illustrate the distortions and confusion inherent in multi-plaintiff trials and underscore the extent of the legal errors that have been repeated. This verdict only reinforces the need for appellate review, and the company will continue to fully defend against the claims in this litigation.
Mr. Lanier seems to be embracing the contradictory position that he is free to comment publicly on the litigation as he has in this interview yet that the companies should not be able to express their views."]
What’s next for you and your firm?
This year, this case has been my foray into the courts. Our next [hip implant trial] is not set until September, so I’ve got a number of cases I’ll be trying before that. I’ve got an active docket beyond this. I just keep going.