We are one of the leading firms in the country for products liability trials, with an unparalleled track record of success and a deep bench of lawyers with first- and second-chair trial experience. We have served as lead counsel in seven major bellwether products liability trials since 2016 and are currently playing a lead role in several other mass torts. In those trials, four different lawyers have taken standup roles in front of the jury at products liability trials: Beth Wilkinson, Brian Stekloff, Tamarra Matthews Johnson, and Rakesh Kilaru. And several other of our lawyers have appeared before the judge to argue all manner of motions—from Daubert and Frye motions to motions in limine.
In a three-month span in 2019, we tried three high-stakes, high-pressure trials—two of which involved products liability. Based on our success, the National Law Journal selected Wilkinson Stekloff as one of its Washington D.C. 2020 Litigation Departments of the Year in Products Liability/Mass Torts.
While our focus in all of these cases is on developing the themes and narrative that will win over juries, we have also played a critical role in other aspects of the litigation, from leading the briefing and legal strategy to taking and defending the key depositions that shine in the courtroom or helping deliver favorable settlements. Clients look to Wilkinson Stekloff to bring a winning strategy to bellwether cases that can be replicated in later stages of multi-district or mass tort litigation.
Here are some of the highlights of our experience:
- Boudreaux v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Orr v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals (Judge Fallon, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana). Wilkinson Stekloff, led by Beth Wilkinson, won the first two federal bellwether trials in New Orleans in a multi-district litigation involving the blood thinner Xarelto. The MDL was one of the largest in the United States, with over 18,000 cases pending. The plaintiffs in both cases alleged that Wilkinson Stekloff’s client Bayer and codefendant Janssen Pharmaceuticals had failed to adequately instruct doctors on how to identify individuals at a high risk of bleeding on Xarelto. In both cases, the juries returned unanimous defense verdicts within two hours after closing arguments. Beth was named American Lawyer’s Litigator of the Week and a “Law360 Legal Lion” for her work leading the defense team in the first trial.
- Hartman v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals (Judge Erdos, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas); Russell v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals (Judge Erdos, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas); Cooney v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals (Judge Sarmina, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas). Wilkinson Stekloff then went on to win all three of the bellwether trials in the companion state court mass tort litigation in Philadelphia.
In the first case, Hartman, Beth Wilkinson convinced the trial court to enter judgment for Bayer and Janssen notwithstanding a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Ruling from the bench, Judge Erdos concluded that the plaintiff had failed to introduce sufficient evidence of causation to prevail in the case, and that he would have otherwise granted a new trial based on plaintiffs’ highly inflammatory and prejudicial commentary during closing argument.
Months later, Brian Stekloff led the Wilkinson Stekloff team to victory in the Russell case, which was the first case involving failure to warn claims based on the alleged increased risk of taking Xarelto along with antiplatelet medications.
The most recent trial victory came in September 2018, when a jury in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas deliberated for less than three hours, after a trial that lasted over three weeks. The team, led by Tamarra Matthews Johnson and Rakesh Kilaru, was named as one of Law360’s “Legal Lions” for the trial victory.
Following that victory, the parties entered into a global settlement for the thousands of pending cases, without Plaintiffs having won a single case.
Farar v. Bayer AG (Judge Orrick, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California). Wilkinson Stekloff won a decisive trial victory for Bayer in a certified consumer class action lawsuit brought on behalf of One A Day multivitamin consumers. Without calling any witnesses in the defense case, the team relied on devastating cross-examinations of plaintiffs’ witnesses to convince the jury to reject plaintiffs’ claims that Bayer had misrepresented the health benefits of One A Day multivitamins.
Plaintiffs had initially sought over $4 billion in damages, but the Wilkinson Stekloff legal issues team, led by James Rosenthal and Kieran Gostin, reduced the potential exposure by hundreds of millions of dollars through pre-trial motions. Then, at trial, the Wilkinson Stekloff team got the plaintiffs’ expert witness to agree that the vitamins in One A Day help support heart health, immunity, and physical energy, and elicited testimony from one of the name plaintiffs that she thought One A Day multivitamins would boost her immunity, undermining allegations that she was deceived as a consumer.
The trial highlighted the top-to-bottom contributions of our trial teams. On his direct examination, Plaintiffs’ expert used a chart intended to show that most consumers are already getting their needed vitamins without supplementation. The Wilkinson Stekloff associate team quickly discovered, through the metadata on the chart, that it had actually been cribbed from a sports website and reflected the average height of NFL players, rather than vitamin blood levels.
The case was brought to a close after the jury not only rejected plaintiffs’ challenges to Bayer’s product labeling, but also concluded that none of the class representatives had relied on the challenged health claims in purchasing the One A Day product. The jury returned a complete defense verdict after just an hour of deliberations. The Wilkinson Stekloff team were named as “Law360 Legal Lions” for the victory, and James Rosenthal was selected as one of National Law Journal’s “Winning Litigators.”
Larsen v. Philip Morris USA (Missouri Circuit Court) & Miner v. Philip Morris USA (Arkansas Circuit Court). In March 2016, just two months after opening its doors, Wilkinson Stekloff, led by Beth Wilkinson, successfully represented Philip Morris USA in a consumer class action trial concerning the marketing of Marlboro Lights cigarettes. Plaintiffs sought more than $1.7 billion in damages. On April 7, 2016, after a three-week trial, the St. Louis jury rendered a complete defense verdict in less than 30 minutes, finding by an 11-1 vote that the marketing of Marlboro Lights did not deceive smokers.
Plaintiffs claimed that Philip Morris’s use of the terms “Lights” and “Lowered Tar and Nicotine” violated Missouri state law by suggesting that Marlboro Lights, the nation’s best-selling cigarettes, were not as dangerous as Marlboro full-flavored cigarettes. A 2011 trial ended with a hung jury, and Plaintiffs delayed a 2014 re-trial of the case following the publication of a Surgeon General report which, Plaintiffs claimed, showed that Marlboro Lights were more dangerous than full-flavored cigarettes. At the 2016 retrial, Wilkinson Stekloff focused its defense on the issues that were actually disputed at trial—whether, in fact, Marlboro Lights delivered less tar and nicotine to smokers, whether the company’s marketing was in conflict with the public health community consensus at the time, and whether the class suffered any actual damages—and established, on the merits, that Philip Morris deserved to prevail.
Just months after the Larsen victory, Wilkinson Stekloff helped Philip Morris reach a favorable settlement in Miner, a similar class action suit pending in Arkansas state court. A much longer class period and the inclusion of the Marlboro Ultra Lights brand brought the claimed damages in Miner to over $2.5 billion. On the eve of an August 2016 trial and on the heels of Wilkinson Stekloff’s complete defense win in Larsen, Plaintiffs agreed to settle all of their claims for $45 million, less than 2% of Plaintiffs’ damages demand.
Anders v. Medtronic, Inc. (Missouri Circuit Court). Within days of opening its doors, Medtronic retained Wilkinson Stekloff to serve as lead trial counsel for the first two bellwether cases in St Louis, Missouri in mass tort litigation brought by individuals allegedly injured by Medtronic’s spinal fusion device, Infuse. Led by Brian Stekloff and Beth Wilkinson, we played a lead role in all aspects of strategy and discovery, including defending company witness depositions and leading expert discovery and individual case work-ups. Medtronic was then able to resolve the litigation mere weeks before trial of the first case.
- Hardeman v. Monsanto (Judge Chhabria, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California). Led by Brian Stekloff, Tamarra Matthews Johnson, and Rakesh Kilaru, Wilkinson Stekloff represented Monsanto in the first federal-court trial over allegations that Roundup causes Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The jury deliberated for five days before returning a verdict for the Plaintiff, which was subsequently reduced by two-thirds based on Wilkinson Stekloff’s post-trial briefing. Wilkinson Stekloff continues to lead the overall trial strategy in the federal MDL.
- Altria E-Vapor Litigation (Judge Orrick, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California). Led by Beth Wilkinson, James Rosenthal, Rakesh Kilaru, and Moira Penza, Wilkinson Stekloff represents Altria in multidistrict litigation arising out of Altria’s minority investment in JUUL Labs, Inc., a leading manufacturer of closed-system e-vapor devices.
Before founding Wilkinson Stekloff, the firm’s partners handled other significant products liability litigation, including playing a lead role for Pfizer in cases regarding hormone therapy, its cholesterol medication Lipitor, and its antidepressant Zoloft, and for Eli Lilly in cases regarding its antidepressant Cymbalta. Beth Wilkinson and Brian Stekloff led trial teams resulting in seven complete defense verdicts in those various litigations.