Wheeler Trigg O'Donnell is deeply experienced in all phases of product-liability litigation across a range of industries. Our skills go beyond the defense of individual lawsuits and include pre-suit emergency response and crisis management; early resolution of claims; coordination with related litigation (e.g., pattern product-liability actions, commercial recovery actions against suppliers of allegedly defective parts); coordination with regulatory investigations; coordination with legislative investigations; coordination of nationwide discovery; electronic discovery operations; media relations; supervision of local counsel; retention of expert witnesses; factual investigation; settlement negotiations; and trials and appeals.
Product recalls, catastrophic accidents with injuries, and critical incidents involving mass injuries demand an immediate and knowledgeable response. WTO's clients often require legal assistance at the onset of a crisis in anticipation of tort and commercial claims. WTO lawyers are prepared to respond immediately to client emergencies to help avoid or mitigate legal liability. Some WTO lawyers have undergone media training and appeared for our clients on nationwide television programs such as "20/20" and "Dateline," among others.
Beyond strictly legal skills, many of our lawyers, through both their educational backgrounds and experience in product-liability work, have developed sophisticated understandings of technical and scientific fields that generate the best and most persuasive evidence on issues of product defect and causation. We are able to communicate with engineers, physicians, and scientists and other outside experts, and to develop persuasive briefs and evidentiary presentations, in the areas that matter most to manufacturing companies.
Chambers USA ranks WTO among the top 12 product-liability litigation firms nationwide. The Legal 500 ranks WTO among the top 10 product-liability and mass-tort firms for consumer-product and automotive matters.
WTO lawyers have served as national, regional, and lead trial counsel for many well-known companies and have prevailed in numerous product-liability cases nationwide. Companies that we currently serve or have served as national or regional product-liability trial counsel include: Advanced Bionics; Boston Scientific; CNA; Cooper/Abex; Crocs; Dow Chemical; FMC; Ford Motor Company; Foster Wheeler; General Electric; Guidant; Merck; Pfizer; Sears; Toyota; Whirlpool; and Wyeth.
A representative sampling of product-liability matters that WTO has handled in the past three years includes:
- WTO attorneys led by partners Malcolm Wheeler and Michael Williams have served as lead trial counsel for Whirlpool in multiple putative class actions filed in more than 20 different state and federal courts. We have implemented a nationwide strategy that has resulted in several dismissals with prejudice, two denials of class certification, and numerous non-class settlements favorable to Whirlpool.
- After a class had been certified, Ford asked WTO to serve as lead trial counsel in a four-month, class-action trial involving the Ford Explorer and claims for relief exceeding $2 billion. The lawsuit, brought on behalf of over 400,000 plaintiffs in California, was the first of its kind in the nation to go to trial and was closely watched by the automotive industry and others. Following pretrial motions, the plaintiffs dismissed all their jury claims. Then, on the day scheduled for closing arguments in the four-month bench trial, the plaintiffs agreed to a no-cash, coupon-based settlement not only for the California class, but for classes in three other states in which parallel actions were pending.
- The Superior Court for Santa Clara County, California granted summary judgment in favor of WTO's client in two matters involving our client's stent-graft medical device used to repair abdominal aortic aneurysms without traditional open surgical techniques. The court found that the plaintiffs' claims were preempted by federal law. The wins were especially significant because the cases involved an extension of recent United States Supreme Court preemption case law.
- In an asbestos case for an international technology and energy company, WTO obtained an order after a Daubert hearing striking the plaintiff's expert as a witness and dismissing the case just two days before the trial was to start. This case, heard in Cleveland, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas, involved the very first time in asbestos litigation that an expert was struck on causation theories.
- WTO obtained a notable verdict for a leading international engineering, construction, and project management contractor. This case, the first asbestos case tried to verdict in the state of Iowa in more than a decade, involved a personal injury claim by a Navy veteran who had served on a ship insulated with asbestos. The plaintiff's attorney had advertised that he was the expert on Navy cases and had never lost a verdict. The jury reversed his fortune when it declared a defense verdict for WTO's client, the sole defendant in the case, after only 45 minutes of deliberation following a two-week trial.
- In a 2-1 decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found the plaintiff's product-liability claims against an antidepressant made by WTO's client to be preempted. This case drew extensive amicus curiae briefs on both sides. It is the first appellate decision to find preemption in a case involving an antidepressant medication.
In short, we believe that only a few firms nationally match WTO's expertise and experience in product-liability litigation. Fewer still can approach our efficiency and cost-effectiveness in this field.