Fidelma Fitzpatrick of Motley Rice. (Photo: Peter Goldberg)
Fidelma Fitzpatrick of Motley Rice. (Photo: Peter Goldberg)

Fidelma Fitzpatrick has been named lead counsel of the California litigation over Bayer Corp.’s Essure birth control device, the latest woman to spearhead a mass tort.

Fitzpatrick, a partner in the Providence, Rhode Island, office of Motley Rice, was appointed last month to head a five-member plaintiffs executive committee in the Essure litigation before Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith. Smith’s order was made public on Jan. 6. About 50 lawsuits filed in California on behalf of more than 800 women allege Bayer failed to disclose that its Essure device could cause chronic pain, bleeding and unintended pregnancies.

Fitzpatrick is the latest female attorney to be appointed to head a mass tort. Last month, a federal judge in New Jersey appointed two women to lead the federal multidistrict litigation against Johnson & Johnson over its talcum powder products and, in November, a federal judge in Pennsylvania named two women to lead an antitrust case. “We’re seeing a new trend toward women looking for leadership positions and women being selected for leadership positions by courts,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s important to have both men and women represented, but in a case like this where we’re talking about birth control devices and women’s health issues it’s particularly important to have women represented.”

Joining Fitzpatrick on the committee are three women—Erin Copeland of Houston’s Fibich Leebron Copeland Briggs & Josephson; Kim Dougherty in the Boston office of Baltimore’s Janet, Jenner & Suggs; Elizabeth Graham of Grant & Eisenhofer in Wilmington, Delaware—and Edward Wallace of Chicago’s Wexler Wallace. Lead defense counsel is Alycia Degen, a partner at Sidley Austin’s Los Angeles office.

The litigation could test the bounds of an Aug. 29 decision by the California Supreme Court in Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court, which found that plaintiffs outside California could sue in California state courts. Bristol-Myers, backed by amicus groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse that ruling.

Fitzpatrick said she expected a battle early on over the Bristol-Myers decision’s impact on the Essure cases. “We are optimistic and we do belief the BMS decision squarely holds these women are able to bring their claims in California state courts,” she said.