Colorado is home to trial groups that can get big results on complex, engineering-driven cases. And the Best Law Firms list in products liability is one place to find several of them.
Firms listed in the products liability category, on both the plaintiff’s and defense side, share a reputation for handling high-stakes claims for decades involving an array of industries and product types.
For Best Law Firms honoree Wells Anderson & Race, products liability defense has been a bread-and-butter practice from the time it opened its doors in 1995.
“We do some [work] that’s not within a strict product liability arena, but when we started the firm, certainly our focus was product liability,” said cofounding firm member Mary Wells.
Wells recalls litigating a case over breast implants in Texas in the firm’s early days, and the firm’s clients over the years have expanded to include manufacturers of other medical devices as well as aircraft and recreational vehicles. Wells said the firm has gotten most of its newer clients as referrals from earlier clients, and the firm has steadily grown from four members and an associate in 1995 to 15 attorneys today.
As a small trial firm that litigates nationwide, Wells Anderson & Race runs lean as part of its business model.
“Our teams here are much skinnier than they would be in other firms, and that’s a significant benefit to the client in terms of economy,” Wells said. The firm stresses a “team approach” where there’s a clear coordination and division of responsibilities among attorneys on any given case, she added.
Wells Anderson & Race attorneys often co-counsel with attorneys from other firms across the country on cases. In some cases, they’ve worked with team members remotely right up until just before trial, according to Michael Brooks, a member who joined Wells Anderson & Race in 1997.
“We’ve had clients over the years … that are favorably predisposed to using the virtual law firm approach” for handling products liability matters, Brooks said.
The plaintiffs’ side of Best Law Firms products liability list, too, has small firms known for getting big results. For 2020, it includes Ogborn Mihm, which handles legal malpractice and business litigation in addition to catastrophic injury cases. In 2018, Ogborn Mihm and its clients made national headlines when they obtained a $100 million settlement in a case stemming from a helicopter crash in Frisco involving Air Methods.
Nicole Quintana, who has spent nearly 10 years as an attorney with Ogborn Mihm and was a paralegal for the firm before law school, said the firm takes “a holistic approach” to cases. Representing an injured plaintiff means not just advising them on the legal aspects of their cases but also walking them through the physical and emotional hardships that come with their injuries, Quintana said.
“I think we have the … understanding of how far-reaching those injuries can be into their personal lives as well as the legal case that we’re working on,” Quintana said. She stressed, however, that “obviously no one journey is going to be the exact same as somebody else’s.”
“But I think you start to recognize some of the commonalities and the patterns [among cases], and we’re better able to walk clients through how best to deal with them,” she continued.
Quintana said that Ogborn Mihm’s attorneys are “trial lawyers at heart.”
“We prepare every case as if it’s going to go to trial,” she said. What that means, Quintana said, is they build up a case with an eye toward simplifying often complex issues, because that simplified story is what will ultimately be told to the jury.
Approaching every case as if it could eventually see a trial isn’t a credo that’s exclusive to plaintiffs’ firms.
Miko Brown echoed that trial-prep focus when describing Davis Graham & Stubbs’ trial group, which is a Best Law Firms 2020 honoree in products liability defense.
DGS added Brown as a partner in 2017 to lead its trial group, which she said isn’t focused on products liability or any particular genre but handles “an array of different case types.”
“And in terms of the types of products that we deal with, it really runs the gamut,” Brown said.
Charles Casteel, DGS senior of counsel, has had a decades-long practice focusing on automotive products among other industries, and Brown has personally worked on cases involving industrial mixers, car seats, medical equipment and asbestos. She is currently on a team representing the Sackler family in the opioid litigation.
Brown said products liability “used to be a subset of cases that is most likely to go to trial,” like medical malpractice. But defendants, perhaps becoming more risk-averse after the recession, have been much less willing to try those cases in recent years, she added. Still, DGS likes to approach most products liability cases as if they will end up in trial.
For example, where a litigator might use depositions to conduct discovery, Brown and other DGS attorneys like to craft more pointed lines of questioning in depositions, creating a record that will be more useful if that witness eventually takes the stand.
But that requires the litigator to do more homework than they would otherwise in the early stages of a case, Brown noted.
As for where products liability litigation is headed, the attorneys in this article tended to agree that individual plaintiffs have been more likely to consolidate their cases in recent years, often into mass tort actions or multi-district litigation.
The subject matter trends have shifted over the years, as well. Brown said she’s seen past surges in automotive and asbestos claims subside in favor of more health-based claims, which were recently led by blockbuster verdicts against Pfizer, Monsanto and Johnson & Johnson among other companies.
Quintana said she anticipates the future of products liability litigation to involve more e-cigarette products and self-driving cars.
“I think that’s going to be a huge product liability issue coming up,” Quintana said of self-driving cars. “It’ll add a whole other layer of complexity to what have been traditional negligence car crash cases. So that’ll be interesting to see how that evolves.”
— Doug Chartier