Photo by Carmen Natale/ALM.  Left to right: R. Michael Riecken, Eric D. Katz, Adam M. Epstein, Beth G. Baldinger, David M. Freeman, Adam M. Slater, David A. Mazie, Matthew R. Mendelsohn, Cheryll A. Calderon, Michael R. Griffith, David M. Estes

Mazie Slater Katz & Freeman does a variety of plaintiff work, but had a particularly strong 2017 when it came to products liability. The firm handled matters in state and federal courts, playing an important role in the ongoing pelvic mesh litigation (culminating more recently in a $68 million jury award, including punitive damages). Also last year, Mazie Slater helped resolve upward of 2,000 cases pending against Daiichi Sankyo and Forest Laboratories in the years-long Benicar litigation.

** The responses were provided by partner David Mazie. **

What were some of the department’s most satisfying successes of 2017, and why?

2017 was an excellent year for Mazie Slater, and in particular our product liability practice. We were lead counsel in the $358 million mass tort settlement for Benicar, a blood pressure drug. The settlement benefits thousands of individuals from around the country. We also won a $15 million jury verdict against Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Ethicon, in the second pelvic mesh bellwether case to ever go to trial in New Jersey. The jury verdict included $10 million of punitive damages. We also negotiated an $11.24 million product liability settlement on behalf of a client who was seriously injured by a defective product. Finally, we settled an $8.6 million nationwide class action involving defects in BMW vehicles. Each of these wins was significant to us because we faced some of the largest law firms in the world and we came out on top. For example, in the pelvic mesh trial, we were against five different law firms from around the country. The fact that a litigation boutique with only 12 lawyers has accomplished so much against such large corporate defendants with unlimited resources is a testament to the talent, aggressiveness and creativity of our law firm.

Being a Litigation Department of the Year means more than providing good counsel. How does your group go a step further for clients?

Most of our clients are catastrophically injured individuals. By fighting on their behalf against large corporations, we are able to not only provide them with the justice they deserve, but actually change their lives. For example, many times our clients have little or no income and face financial ruin because they are unable to work, but have significant medical and other expenses. By winning these cases on their behalf, we can change their lives and allow them to obtain the care and treatment they require. Once we win a settlement, we then work with other professionals in order to ensure that our clients receive exactly what they need; this includes purchasing a new home, altering their home to accommodate their disability, purchase of specially fitted vans for transportation, establishment of special needs trusts, and many other essential items they require.

In an era of increasing law practice portability, what does it mean to be an effective litigator in New Jersey?

While the “walls have come down,” allowing out-of-state litigators to practice more regularly in New Jersey, we have found that there is an advantage to being a New Jersey-based law firm. We have much greater familiarity and understanding of New Jersey practice and procedure, and we are much more familiar with the judges, juries and the workings of New Jersey courts. We have found this to be true in the bellwether cases we have tried on behalf of catastrophically injured pelvic mesh clients, and we believe it is a distinct advantage in our favor.

Is it true that clients now more than ever wish to avoid litigation, and if so, how do law firms manage the business of operating a litigation department in the new marketplace?

We have not found that defendants seek to avoid litigation any more than they did in the past. Because the cases we handle are all high-value matters, we have not seen any greater willingness on the part of defendants to settle these cases any earlier.

Litigators are extraordinarily busy people. What does the firm do to ensure that they remain engaged with pro bono work, their communities and their families?

We encourage all of our lawyers to spend time with their families, as we believe there is nothing more important than family. Because we are on the smaller side, we have the luxury of really knowing each other’s family members. We also encourage our employees to give back to their own communities.

Technology and other factors have changed work capabilities and habits. How do you offer flexibility while also effectively managing attorneys and others professionals?

We have successfully employed technology in trying many of our cases. We regularly present our cases to the jury by using videotaped depositions as well as custom designed graphics. The days of reading deposition transcripts to the jury and using cardboard display boards are long over.