Welcome to Critical Mass, Law.com’s new briefing on class actions and mass torts. I’m Amanda Bronstad in Los Angeles. This week, a federal judge told lawyers in the opioid MDL that he wanted a settlement plan – and fast. And in Philadelphia, a $28 million verdict over Xarelto was reversed. Former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, could end up mediating the Flint water contamination cases. And my colleague Scott Flaherty has some more insight on this week’s announcement that Milberg would merge with Sanders Phillips Grossman.
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A Sprint to Settle Opioids?
Forget briefing, motions and trials. The judge overseeing the opioid MDL had just one thing in mind this week: Figure out a way to settle the lawsuits, and waste no time doing so.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster made no bones about wanting lawsuits filed against opioid manufacturers and distributors to be resolved – and quickly. Here’s my report on a hearing that turned out to be short and to the point.
But settlement could be tricky. There are various plaintiffs and defendants, and some lawsuits are in other jurisdictions (see here for one such jurisdictional fight this week in the Cherokee Nation’s opioid case).
And insurers could be on the hook — or could they? Adam Fleischer of BatesCarey, which represents liability insurers of opioid defendants, said that’s questionable, especially given a California appeals court ruling in November that found two insurers did not have to indemnify Actavis to defend opioid cases brought by Santa Clara and Orange counties and the city of Chicago(here’s the opinion).
And as for distributors, they’ll have to prove to insurers that the settlement compensates “bodily injury.” “The pleadings have become more and more clear that what they’re seeking recovery for is the reimbursement of economic expense,” Fleischer said. “So, the insurance industry would argue that none of that is covered under liability policy.”
Xarelto Verdict Vanishes
Well, that was fast! A month after plaintiffs attorneys scored their only win in litigation over blood thinner Xarelto, a Philadelphia judge tossed the $28 million verdict this week.
Here’s Law.com’s Max Mitchell with the update.
A key issue for Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael Erdoswas the plaintiff’s treating physician, Dr. Josephine Randazzo.
“Typically, plaintiffs have to prove that the recommended label changes would have led the doctor to change his or her prescribing decision,” Max told me. “In this case, the plaintiff had testified that she would have refused to take the medication if she had been told about the risks, but, according to Erdos, Randazzo’s testimony didn’t clearly establish that she would have communicated the specifics of the test results.”
It’s been a rough week for the Xarelto plaintiffs. On Tuesday, Erdos punished Ned McWilliams of Levin Papantonio and Emily Jeffcott of The Lambert Firm after plaintiffs lawyers posted courtroom photos on Instagramwith the hashtag #killinnazis.
The Person to Clean Up Flint’s Water Crisis?
A federal judge in Michigan overseeing the Flint water contamination cases said she planned to appoint former U.S. Senator Carl Levin as a mediator. Here’s my story. U.S. District Judge Judith Levy also picked former Wayne County Chief Judge Pro Tem Pamela Harwood as a mediator. But a settlement doesn’t seem that imminent given that government officials have moved to dismiss the cases and stay discovery.
By the way: Could plaintiffs lawyers Theodore Leopold and Steve Morrissey, both in lead roles in the Flint cases, be looking to specialize in water contamination litigation? Last week, Leopold, at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, and Morrissey, of Susman Godfrey, were named interim co-lead counsel in a class action brought against DuPont over the alleged toxic dumping into a North Carolina river.
Milberg Merger Places Tadler in Leadership Role
Here’s some more on this week’s merger between Milberg and Sanders Phillips Grossman. From Scott Flaherty, who covers plaintiffs firms for Law.com (see his story):
“Before landing in jail on charges of paying kickbacks to clients, Bill Lerach and Mel Weiss helped thrust Milberg to the top of the securities class action bar, in large part by representing individual investors. But Milberg’s position has waned in light of the founders’ legal issues and the rise of competing plaintiffs firms who represent large pension funds and other institutional investors, such as Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann and Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd.”
He also had this interesting point about the elevation of Ariana Tadler to the masthead of Milberg Tadler Phillips Grossman:
“It’s worth noting that Tadler’s leadership role puts her among a small number of women at the helm of nationally-known law firms—and that’s especially true among the top plaintiffs-side class action firms.”
Here’s what else you need to know as we head into the holiday weekend:
A Change in the Environment: The Trump administration may be rolling back EPA regulations, but environmental lawsuits keep coming. The city of New Yorksued five energy companies this week over climate change. See Law.com’s story here and Bloomberg’s coverage here. And Ford was hit with a class action over devices that cheat emissions tests. Plaintiffs firm Hagens Bermanalso has sued Chrysler, Mercedes, GM and, of course, Volkswagen.
A Date in Jail: A woman who destroyed $300,000 worth of fine art at Houston plaintiffs lawyer Tony Buzbee’s house last month could face a life sentence in a Texas prison. Here’s the story from Law.com’s John Council. Lindy Lou Layman was on a first date with Buzbee when she tore paintings off the wall, including two original Andy Warhol paintings. She was charged with criminal mischief and appeared in court this week. Buzbee told John: “She also pulled a Renoir and a Monet off the wall. Luckily those weren’t damaged.” Lucky indeed. Layman could face life in prison under a Texas law that’s based on the value of what’s stolen — although one attorney said she’d probably get probation. Chris Mulder put it this way: “Jurors aren’t terribly sympathetic to people who have million-dollar art collections.”