Kline, Baldwin win $41M verdict vs. J&J in vaginal mesh case

 

Tom Kline and Kila Baldwinwere co-lead counsel in a five-week trial that culminated in a $41 million verdict, including $25 million in punitive damages, for injuries suffered by a Pennsylvania woman implanted with a defective vaginal mesh device manufactured and sold by a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary. Serving as co-counsel were Elia Robertson, Tom Bosworth and Philip Pasquarello. The verdict in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court was for Suzanne Emmett, now 57, of Lancaster, who was implanted with a mesh product made by Ethicon Inc. to treat organ prolapse and urinary incontinence. A series of corrective surgeries and therapies failed, leaving her with permanent injuries. Her lawsuit claimed that the plastic-like mesh had a high failure rate and that J&J misrepresented the safety and efficacy of its mesh products while underreporting and withholding information about their propensity to fail and cause injury. In a joint statement following the verdict, Kline and Baldwin told the news media: “This jury rightfully compensated one of the thousands of Johnson & Johnson victims terribly injured by its mesh products and sent a strong deterrent message through its punitive damages verdict.” The jury verdict followed those of $57.1 million, $20 million, $13.5 million, $12.5 million and $2.16 million won by Kline & Specter attorneys in previous vaginal mesh cases. (Read article)

Settlement reached with PSU, suit filed vs. 28 frat members in Piazza case

Tom Kline made two major announcements in the continuing case of Timothy Piazza, the Penn State student who died in a fraternity hazing incident. One was a settlement reached with PSU on behalf of Jim and Evelyn Piazza, Timothy’s parents, whom Kline and Kline & Specter partner David Williams have represented since the incident that occurred more than two years ago. The other was that Kline and Williams filed suit against 28 members of the shuttered Beta Theta Pi fraternity and a security company. The monetary settlement with the university was confidential. But the agreement includes reforms to be enforced at all PSU fraternities and sororities, among them safety and accountability measures, encouragement of alcohol-free housing and continued training for bystander intervention. The lawsuit against the 28 fraternity members noted that Piazza was forced to drink large amounts of alcohol, was physically abused and fell down a flight of stairs, and that no one called for medical attention until the next morning. "For more than 11 hours after his fall,” the suit states, “Timothy Piazza endured horrible pain and suffering, which was documented by closed-circuit cameras.” Criminal charges were filed against the 28 Beta Theta Pi members but most have been resolved, with some members pleading guilty to largely alcohol- or hazing-related charges while others agreed to enter a diversion program for first-time, nonviolent offenders. Kline also represented the Piazza family in a settlement with the national fraternity, a settlement that included a confidential monetary sum plus a long list of reforms to be imposed on the fraternity’s 139 chapters nationwide. Pennsylvania has also enacted stringent anti-hazing legislation named for Timothy Piazza. (News coverage)

Williams reps whistleblowers in successful Medicare, Medicaid cases

David Williams represented whistleblowers in two cases that resulted in settlements of nearly $5.9 million and $3.5 million for fraudulent claims made to Medicare and Medicaid, respectively. In the first case, Williams represented a former employee at SouthernCare Inc. who alleged the company from 2009-2014 wrongly billed Medicare for hospice care in Pennsylvania facilities that was not necessary. While relatively costly hospice care is intended for terminally ill patients with life expectancies of six months or less, SouthernCare in some cases treated patients for many years, according to the government claim. In the second case, Williams represented a pharmacist who blew the whistle on Walgreen Co. (known as “Walgreens”) for allegedly submitting false claims to Medicaid. In handling the case, the government claimed that from 2011 to 2014 the drugstore chain submitted claims from Wisconsin stores to Medicaid for stimulant medications such as Adderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse without first verifying with the prescribing doctor that the medicine was for appropriate treatment, as is required. Walgreens, while not admitting wrongdoing as part of the settlement, agreed to pay roughly $2.1 million to reimburse the federal government and $1.4 million to the State of Wisconsin. Under the federal False Claims Act, the whistleblowers in both cases were to receive a portion of the settlement payments as a reward for their assistance.

Sterns’ gift to bolster free community legal assistance

 

Andy Stern and his wife Gwen Stern, a law professor at the Thomas R. Kline School of Law, announced a $1.65 million gift to Drexel University. The gift will be used to enrich the Community Lawyering Clinic located at Drexel’s Dornsife Center in West Philadelphia. To be renamed The Andy and Gwen Stern Community Lawyering Center, it will expand free legal assistance to community members who otherwise could not afford it. Stern noted the existing center is “swamped” and in need of expansion. “There are so many cases where Philadelphia residents experiencing financial hardships are not getting the proper legal representation they deserve. While the center is currently helping people, we plan to take this to a whole other level,” he said. Stern said his donation will in part be used to hire one additional full-time attorney and that he and Gwen Stern will also volunteer their time to provide legal services. “I’m looking forward to going to court on behalf of people in need on a pro bono basis,” said Stern, who has won some of Pennsylvania’s largest verdicts and settlements, including his record $95.6 million recovery for a woman seriously injured in the Salvation Army building collapse case. Stern said second- and third-year students at Kline Law will continue to represent clients at the center under supervision. He noted the center, located at 3509 Spring Garden St., is in the area designated by former President Obama as a “Promise Zone” in which greater investment was needed. “This is Drexel’s answer to that call and we’re honored to be part of that effort,” said Stern. An article in the Philadelphia Business Journal quoted the clinic’s director, Rachel López, as saying: “Andy and Gwen’s generous gift will allow us to realize the clinic’s full potential. Not only will it mean that we can provide more high-quality legal assistance to some of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable, but it will also create new opportunities for innovations that will facilitate a more collective and holistic approach to legal problem-solving.” (Read the article)

Kline Institute of Trial Advocacy’s Exhibit Hall opens

 

The Exhibit Hall on the main floor at the Thomas R. Kline Institute of Trial Advocacy of the Kline School of Law was unveiled recently with the objective of providing a robust understanding of the underpinnings of the work and accomplishments of trial lawyers. Focusing on four themes — Advocacy, Remedy, Accountability, and Reform — the museum exhibit explores some of the significant personal injury cases in Philadelphia and the nation over the past four decades. Surrounding an introductory panel, a visitor finds two exhibits depicting in words, photos and objects the 2000 Pier 34 catastrophe and the 2015 Amtrak 188 tragedy — the former featuring the work of Tom Kline and co-lead counsel Bob Mongeluzzi and the latter depicting contributions of Kline and Chip Becker as acknowledged by federal Judge Legrome Davis. The Accountability panel features cases involving defective medical devices, and the Reform panel spotlights changing negligent practices of police departments. There is much more to explore, including a separate extension of the Exhibit Hall on the fifth floor of the 1200 Chestnut Street building featuring a replica escalator from the landmark case of Hall v. SEPTA and the contempt finding by Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Frederica Massiah-Jackson against the Philadelphia mass transit authority nearly 20 years ago. The much-anticipated Exhibit Hall was previewed in Drexel Magazine. The Exhibit Hall is expected to draw attention of law students, lawyers, law professors, and judges for generations to come and will undoubtedly become a sought-after destination.

Appellate Court panel upholds ruling vs. J&J in mesh case

Chip Becker and Andra Laidacker won an opinion from a Pennsylvania Superior Court panel as it refused to overturn a lower court ruling striking post-trial motions by a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary in a vaginal mesh case in which the firm won a $2.1 million compensatory damages jury verdict. The Johnson & Johnson/Ethicon Inc. motions were stricken as untimely – filed one week late – by Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Kenneth J. Powell Jr. Becker argued the case before the Pennsylvania Superior Court panel last May. It announced its 3-0 decision affirming Powell’s ruling in December. The original case was tried by Tom Kline and Kila Baldwin and resulted in the jury verdict for Sharon Beltz, of Toms River, N.J., who suffered serious injuries from the mesh product. The verdict came after 12 days of trial and nine hours of jury deliberations. Beltz had the vaginal mesh implanted in 2006, the year after the product was released. That device, found defective by the jury, was taken off the market in 2012.

Baldwin addresses FDA advisory group

 

Kila Baldwin, fresh off a $41M verdict in Emmet v. Ethicon, Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, spoke at a meeting of an advisory committee for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about the use of vaginal mesh devices implanted for the treatment of anterior pelvic organ prolapse. Others invited to appear before the panel included patients, doctors, mesh manufacturers Boston Scientific and Coloplast, and representatives of industry groups such as the American Urogynecologic Society (AUGS). Before the committee, Baldwin stressed the need for long-term studies on the safety of the mesh and that, given the known catastrophic injuries caused by previous mesh products that were withdrawn from the market, the best mesh still may be no mesh. She showed the panel internal documents of Ethicon stating “no mesh is the best mesh” and told the committee, “My clients agree.” Baldwin recently was co-lead counsel with Tom Kline in winning a $41 million verdict against Ethicon for a woman who suffered permanent injuries following a 2007 mesh implant. She also was lead counsel in Ebaugh v. Ethicon, et al., a similar trial that resulted in a $57.1 million verdict in late 2017 for another woman who suffered injuries following a mesh implant. The advisory committee will report its findings on the efficacy and safety of vaginal mesh products as well as recommendations for physician training to the FDA.

Bezar addresses AAJ, City Council committee on child sexual assault

Nadeem Bezar addressed a large audience at the annual convention of the American Association for Justice held in Miami. His topic: “Institutional v. Individual Liability in Cases Involving Sexual Assault: Considerations and Strategies.” Bezar has litigated a number of successful lawsuits against both institutions and individuals in child abuse cases. “Sexual assault of youth and young adults is truly an epidemic,” Bezar told his audience. His presentation focused on issues that arise in handling clients and cases involving physical and sexual abuse, included topics of insurance coverage, pleadings and “the never-ending question of whether to sue the perpetrator of the assault.” The following week Bezar testified before Philadelphia City Council’s Committee on Public Health and Human Services on the subject of foster care and child abuse. (Watch testimony beginning at 54:27) “The point I would like to make is a simple one. The system is overburdened,” he told the panel of the foster care system, including city agencies that place children. “An overburdened system will break and failures will be the result. These errors and deficiencies result in the assault and injury of our most vulnerable population – children who have been separated from their families who need us the most.” (Read news article)

Marks chosen as board member of new group aiding children

 

Emily Marks was named a founding board member of Children Matter, a new sister organization to Public Citizens for Children & Youth (PCCY), which works to help children by developing initiatives and advocating for quality health care, child care, public education and family stability. Children Matter will focus on increasing awareness among Pennsylvania elected officials on the importance of investments and policies benefiting children. The organization’s mission is to ensure that every child has the “fundamental building blocks for success,” including consistent health care, high-quality education, proper nutrition and a dependable support network to help them grow into healthy, able and confident adults. Among lobbying efforts to be undertaken by Children Matter are expansion of pre-K programs, greater art instruction programs school-wide, removal of lead paint from rental units in Philadelphia, revision of regulations to allow immigrant children to enroll in public health care, and reforms in licensing state facilities that house foster care and delinquent children

Inscho speaks on civil procedure rules in Temple podcast

 

David K. Inscho made a guest appearance on the Temple Law Review’s podcast from the James E. Beasley School of Law. He was interviewed about a proposal now before the Civil Procedural Rules Committee of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that would, if adopted, no longer limit the filing of professional malpractice claims to the county in which the injury took place. “What this rule is doing is simply treating the victims of medical negligence the same way that victims of any other tort are treated,” Inscho said in the interview. He noted that when patients see a doctor today — as opposed to 2002 when the current venue rules were put in place — they are often visiting a physician who is part of a larger corporate group that operates on a regional basis, meaning that venue would be appropriate in several counties. He also said that more cases might by rightly heard in Philadelphia for a number of reasons. For one, he said, a number of suburban counties have significant backlogs and delays in hearing cases, while Philadelphia is more efficient in that regard. “A plaintiff should have the opportunity not only to have their case heard by a jury … but also to get the case before a jury as promptly as they can.” (Hear the complete podcast)

Bezar first feature profile for Pennsylvania Record

 

The Pennsylvania Record featured Nadeem Bezar as the first in what it plans to be a weekly series of profiles on attorneys from throughout the state. The article detailed how Bezar, who graduated college with an engineering degree, decided against continuing his education in the sciences and instead turned to law. The legal profession was also far from his parents’ occupations as medical doctors. The story discussed Bezar’s current representation of abused children. "There is an alarming number of children in the foster care system and those who are removed from their parents' home and are placed in residential treatment facilities," he told the Record. "Quite tragically, many of these children are being physically and sexually assaulted, and I represent their interests in litigation against parties that allowed it to happen." Bezar told the online publication that he is still energized by his work. “After being a lawyer for 28 years, I am still excited about work every day,” he said. “I think that's pretty exciting and impressive when you consider the burnout that so many people experience after years in the same job." The Record covers Common Pleas courts in five counties, including Philadelphia and Allegheny, as well as all three Pennsylvania appellate courts, its three federal districts and legislation that affects the civil justice system. Read the complete article

 

In The News:

Specter in NY Times on mesh settlement fees

 

The New York Times published an article about mass settlements in vaginal mesh cases and complaints about attorneys’ fees in those cases. It began with the story of one woman, Sherise Grant, 51, who was implanted with a vaginal mesh device and afterward suffered dyspareunia, or pain during sexual intercourse. Her case was settled for only $12,000, but after lawyers’ fees and other expenses, she received only $3,500. Shanin Specter agrees that attorneys’ fees in the massive settlements have been excessive. He told the Times: “Never in the field of mass tort litigation has there been such a yawning gap between success in the courtroom and failure at the settlement table.” Specter has filed court documents stating that because of “puny” settlements obtained for clients, law firms should not be allowed the requested 5 percent in “common benefit fees” they claimed of $11 billion that will be shared among the firms that did the most work on the federal litigation. However, his argument, supported by some other lawyers, was rejected by a federal judge and an initial $366 million was ordered to be shared among about 100 firms that worked on mesh cases. Read the full story.

Williams writes for Verdict on qui tam cases

 

In the winter edition of Verdict, the publication of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association, David Williams examined the ins and outs of whistleblower litigation in an article titled: “Is it a potential Qui Tam case?” Williams, who heads the firm’s False Claims Act cases, noted that whistleblower cases in 2017 resulted in $3.7 billion being returned to government coffers and $392 million paid in rewards to whistleblowers. Kline & Specter has aided whistleblowers in winning a number of major cases, including those the government has settled for $35 million, $16.2 million and $10.2 million. Learn more about our