Product liability, mass tort and class actions: consumer products (including tobacco) - defense in United States

Arnold & Porter

Arnold & Porter handles a range of product liability lawsuits, including product labeling and recall matters, and stands out for its defense of clients from the food and beverages industry before the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). San Francisco-based Trenton Norris, who leads the consumer products and services team, acted for clients such as Kellog’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and General Mills regarding the failure to warn of the presence of the chemical acrylamide in their products. Jointly headed by Pamela Yates in Los Angeles and Anand Agneshwar in New York, the practice group is representing the Altria Group and its affiliates in the Engle progeny litigation brought by 8,000 plaintiffs asserting claims for personal injury and wrongful death. Other work included defending the Hain Celestial Group against claims that some of its products are falsely labelled as organic. Eric Rubel in Washington DC is another name to note.

Jones Day

Jones Day has a broad product liability, mass tort and class action practice and is experienced in a multitude of sectors, including food and beverages, tobacco and home appliances. Dallas-based Matthew Kairis recently defended six colleges and universities in class actions brought on behalf of all former football players, in which plaintiffs allege a failure to warn football players of the adverse effects of concussions, while practice head Stephanie Parker in Atlanta is representing RJ Reynolds Tobacco in Engle progeny cases. In other work, the team defended three wineries in putative class actions alleging that the trace amounts of arsenic in some California wines is excessive and potentially hazardous. Sherwin-Williams and Merck are also among the team’s clients. In March 2018, Frank Bayuk joined the Atlanta office from King & Spalding LLP.

Latham & Watkins LLP

Co-headed by Gwyn Williams in Boston and Thomas Heiden in Chicago, the ‘superbly diligent and clear-headed team’ at Latham & Watkins LLP has a strong track record representing clients from the automotive, tobacco and sports industries. Together with the ‘exceptional strategistKenneth Parsigian based in Boston, Williams has been acting for longstanding client Philip Morris as global coordinating counsel in a lawsuit filed by the South Korean National Health Insurance Service, which claims damages for health care benefits paid to smoking patients and dependents. In Chicago, Mark Mester advised the National Collegiate Athletic Association in a number of class actions consolidated in a multi-district litigation (MDL) regarding allegations that plaintiffs have suffered adverse consequences as a result of participating in athletics at NCAA member institutions. The team also continues to represent Chevron in a series of class actions in the high-profile Hot Fuels litigation.

Led by Joanne Gray, Goodwin’s product liability and mass tort practice has a strong focus on the food and beverages industry, where it frequently advises clients on regulatory, compliance and risk management matters, in addition to recalls and product liability litigation. Acting alongside Glenn Kerner, Gray continues to represent longstanding client Herbalife in all product liability cases, including the Ephedra MDL, while Richard Oetheimer in Boston is defending cosmetic products manufacturer Kolmar Laboratories in talc mass tort litigation involving asbestos exposure claims. Counsel Forrest Hainline and Nilda Isidro are other key names of the practice. The department's client roster also includes Danone, Daily Harvest and KIND. All partners are based in New York unless otherwise stated.

Greenberg Traurig LLP has strengths in product liability matters and class actions in a multitude of industries. The group’s extensive class actions list includes acting for Samsung in proceedings regarding the alleged concealment of a defect in the Samsung S7 Series Smartphone, representing Bausch Health in the talcum powder litigation and defending Champion Petfoods against the claim that certain brands of its pet food products contain BPA, mercury, lead and arsenic. In other work, Francis Citera in Chicago and Robert Herrington in Los Angeles continue to act for Twin Hill in a putative class action brought by American Airlines flight attendants, who alleged that their uniforms caused various health problems. Key practitioners also include Lori Cohen in Atlanta, New York-based Richard Edlin and David Sellinger in New Jersey. The firm recently strengthened its practice in Philadelphia with the hire of Keith Smith in February 2018 and Brian Rubenstein in July 2018, who joined from Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC and Teva Pharmaceuticals respectively.

The product liability group at Morrison & Foerster LLP has outstanding expertise in the technology sector and often handles regulatory matters, recalls and class actions. Practice head Erin Bosman in San Diego continues to represent Fitbit together with Julie Park in two putative class actions regarding the accuracy of its sleep and heart rate tracking function, while Claudia Vetesi represented Unilever in a nationwide consumer class action in which plaintiffs allege that certain ingredients in a facial scrub cause skin irritations. In another highlight, James Schurz is defending Starbucks, Nestlé and other coffee companies against the claim that they are required under Prop 65 to provide cancer warnings on coffee based on the presence of a chemical after roasting. William Stern joined Covington & Burling LLP in January 2019. All named partners are based in San Francisco unless otherwise stated.

Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP has particular experience with claims in the food and beverage and tobacco industries. Jointly headed by Walter Cofer in Kansas City and Alicia Donahue in San Francisco, the product liability practice continues to defend longstanding client Philip Morris in the nationwide Engle progeny litigation, having recently acted as trial counsel in seven different lawsuits. Stryker, Coca-Cola and Ford are also among the firm’s key clients. San Francisco-based Frank Kelly and Kenneth Reilly in Miami are other key figures of the practice. Miranda Soto left in May 2018 to join Shutts & Bowen LLP, while Eric Swan joined the Missouri Attorney General’s Office; Nicolas Deutsch left to co-found Crump & Deutsch PLLC in February 2018. In Kansas City, Naoki Kaneko, Zachary Crowell, Jeffrey Elkins and David Swaney were all made partners.

Winston & Strawn LLP

Leveraging a team of ‘experienced trial lawyers’, Winston & Strawn LLP advises clients from a wide range of industries on product liability and class action-related matters. Notable work highlights include acting for Archer Daniels Midland in a class action alleging equine products were contaminated with a chemical additive that is poisonous to horses, successfully defending Panasonic against a claim that televisions suffered from a latent defect that caused them to prematurely fail, and representing Dollar General and its indemnifying supplier in a putative class action regarding the labeling of a body gel. Natalie Arbaugh in Dallas and Stephen Smerek in Los Angeles co-lead the consumer and class actions team, while Washington DC-based Matthew Campbell heads the product liability practice. Other key figures include Luke Connelly in New York, and George Lombardi and Scott Glauberman in Chicago.

Bowman and Brooke LLP

Bowman and Brooke LLP has a wealth of experience in a number of sectors, including construction, e-cigarettes, recreational products and sport equipment. Of particular note, the team is acting for helmet manufacturer Riddell as national counsel in the high-profile NFL concussion litigation. Further, the team represented Yamaha Motor in propeller guard product liability litigation involving marine accidents of outboard motors. Firm head Paul Cereghini in Phoenix and head of the consumer products group Michelle Gilboe in Minneapolis are the key members of the practice. Richmond-based Eden Darrell was made partner in January 2019. Other clients include Masco Corporation and RazorUSA.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP

Kirkland & Ellis LLP regularly represents manufacturers and distributors in MDLs and class actions. In Chicago, Andrew McGaan and Richard Godfrey represented Celanese Corporation in a putative multi-state class action claiming negligence and strict liability in the design and sale of plastic plumbing pipes sold to homeowners in 24 states. Mike Brock in Washington and Kimberly Branscome in Los Angeles are representing Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary in two state actions, in which plaintiffs allege that the talc used in talc powder products is contaminated with asbestos.

Mayer Brown

The team at Mayer Brown is recognized for its ‘remarkable technical skill’ and stands out for its work in the food and beverages sector. The highly regarded Carmine Zarlenga in Washington DC and ‘thought leaderDale Giali, who co-lead the practice alongside Keri Borders, successfully defended Nestlé USA in a false advertising action regarding the labeling of Coffee-Mate products. Other work highlights include defending Kind in 12 consumer class actions related to allegedly misleading labeling on snack bar products, and acting for the Big Ten Conference in the putative class actions seeking recovery on behalf of former college football players for alleged concussion-related injuries. Mark Mansour departed to Foley & Lardner LLP in February 2018. Unless indicated otherwise, named lawyers are based in Los Angeles.

McGuireWoods LLP

Headed by Diane Flannery, McGuireWoods LLP’s practice is particularly active in wrongful death, catastrophic personal injury and consumer fraud litigation, where it regularly represents clients from the equipment, automotive and tobacco industries. Key highlights include defending Lumber Liquidators in two MDLs concerning the presence of carcinogen chemicals in laminate flooring sold by the client, and acting for Universal Corp and Universal Leaf Tobacco Company in several lawsuits relating to children born with birth defects as a result of exposure to hazardous herbicides and pesticides used in the cultivation of tobacco in Argentina. Terrence Bagley, Perry Miles, and Samuel Tarry are other names to note. In summer 2018, Angela Spivey departed to Alston & Bird LLP, but Courtney Shytle, formerly at Bowman and Brooke LLP, joined the Columbia office in December 2018. All partners are based in Richmond unless otherwise indicated.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP

Acting for major manufacturers in the sports, construction and electronics sectors, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP has expertise across the gamut of product liability and mass tort matters. Washington DC-based practice head John Beisner and Jessica Miller represented Electrolux in several class actions seeking compensation for allegedly defective washing machines; the duo is also acting as lead defense counsel to the National Hockey League (NHL) in MDL involving personal injury claims brought by former NHL players. Johnson & Johnson also instructed the team as discovery counsel on the talc litigation. Allen Ruby and Jack DiCanio in Palo Alto are other recommended figures.

New York-based Arvin Maskin heads the product liability and mass tort practice at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, which handles class actions and product liability lawsuits in the technology, cosmetics and sports sectors. The team represented Japanese fiber manufacturer Toyobo in the two final remaining cases related to the performance of zylon fiber in bullet-resistant vests, and also defended Dometic Corporation in a class action regarding an alleged defect in the cooling units of the client’s gas absorption refrigerators. Also of note, Diane Sullivan in New Jersey successfully represented Johnson & Johnson as lead trial counsel in one bellwether case involving allegations that asbestos contamination of baby powder led the plaintiff to develop mesothelioma. David Singh in Silicon Valley is another key member of the practice group.

Wheeler Trigg O'Donnell LLP

Noted for its work in class actions and product liability litigation, the consumer products and services practice at Wheeler Trigg O'Donnell LLP is headquartered in Denver and is led by founding partner Michael O’Donnell. The team handles contentious and non-contentious work, such as risk mitigation, regulatory law matters, product recalls and product liability litigation. Michael Williams is another name to note.

DLA Piper LLP (US)

Led by Christopher Campbell in Atlanta, the team at DLA Piper LLP (US) comprises ‘very thoughtful litigators, who thoroughly examine the issues and provide in-depth and practical advice’. Leveraging its ‘international reach’ and experience in the food and beverage, technology and tobacco sectors, the practice group is regularly involved in class actions, personal injury lawsuits and false advertisement claims. Angela Agrusa, who joined the Los Angeles office in October 2017 from Liner, represented Danone in several false advertising class actions, including a claim regarding the term ‘organic’ used on certain milk products. Also recommended is George Gigounas, who defended e-cigarette and vaping product manufacturer NJOY in a civil action filed by the Center for Environmental Health seeking Prop 65 cancer warnings on the client's products. In 2018 Amy Rubenstein and John Scholnick joined from Schiff Hardin LLP, while Levi Heath joined from Barnes & Thornburg LLPAlva Mather left the firm for McDermott Will & Emery LLP in October 2019.

Herbert Smith Freehills

The New York-based team at Herbert Smith Freehills has a strong focus on the tobacco sector, as evidenced by its advising longstanding client British American Tobacco (BAT) in smoking and health lawsuits in the US and abroad. In recent highlights, Benjamin Rubenstein and Gregory Loss represented BAT in proceedings brought by the Korean National Health Insurance Service regarding the costs of treatment for smoking-related illnesses, and acted for the same client in two product liability class actions filed in Quebec, which sought punitive and moral damages for nicotine addiction. The firm is also defending Twinings North America and Souza Cruz in product liability claims.

Hogan Lovells US LLP

Jointly led by Lauren Colton in Baltimore and the ‘trustworthy and capablePhoebe Wilkinson in New York, the product liability group at Hogan Lovells US LLP regularly represents manufacturers from the household electronics and appliances, fashion, pet food and electronics industries. Noted for its ‘strong analytical approach and strategy’, the team continues to represent LG Electronics in a putative class action relating to an imbalance defect in washing machines, and is also acting for ITG Voma Corporation in connection with a personal injury lawsuit regarding certain tires manufactured in China. Mark Goodman and Barry Thompson left for Baker McKenzie LLP in March 2018.

Kelley Drye & Warren LLP

Kelley Drye & Warren LLP provides comprehensive advice on class actions, mass tort claims and product liability litigation, where it often acts for clients in the food and beverage, sports and retail industries. The practice group is jointly headed by Jonathan Cooperman and Jeffrey Jacobson, who has ‘an encyclopedic knowledge of class action law and easily familiarizes himself with the most complex of business facts’. Recent highlights include defending Burger King in a proposed class action alleging that the client charged extra for its breakfast sandwiches without the customers’ knowledge, and acting for WME-IMG in several putative class actions concerning the allegedly faulty streaming of a pay-per-view boxing match. In other work, Lauri Mazzuchetti in New Jersey represented Honeywell International in a Telephone Consumer Protection Act class action in West Virginia. Michael Lynch is another key figure in the department. Unless otherwise stated, all named lawyers are based in New York.

King & Spalding LLP

The tobacco and consumer products trial practice at King & Spalding LLP is led by Atlanta-based Randall Bassett and has expertise in product liability litigation and class actions involving technology products, cosmetics, tobacco and household products. John Hooper and Eric Gladbach in New York represented Sony Electronics in a class action alleging that the client deceptively marketed the Xperia line of smartphones and tablets as waterproof. In addition, Charlotte-based Jeffrey Furr defended RJ Reynolds Tobacco in a punitive damages trial regarding a smoker’s cancer. In other work, the team acted as California coordinating counsel and trial counsel for Johnson & Johnson in connection with claims alleging plaintiffs developed mesothelioma after using talc powder products. Charlotte-based Cory Hohnbaum and Richard Schneider in Atlanta are other names to note. In March 2018, Frank Bayuk left for Jones Day, while Livia Kiser and Michael Shortnacy joined from Sidley Austin LLP in July 2018, and Melvin Bailey joined from Crowe Arnold & Majors LLP in September 2018.

O'Melveny & Myers LLP

Headed by Washington DC-based Steven Brody, the product liability and mass torts department at O'Melveny & Myers LLP specializes in representing clients from the technology and consumer care sectors. In one standout matter, the team recently acted for Johnson & Johnson as appellate counsel in a nationwide putative class action concerning the company’s baby powder. Head of the consumer class actions practice Matt Powers in San Francisco and Richard Goetz in Los Angeles represented Advanced Micro Devices in proposed class actions regarding an alleged security vulnerability affecting the microprocessors inside computers. Further, Los Angeles-based Carlos Lazatin defended Samsung in three class actions alleging misrepresentation of the energy efficiency of Energy Star televisions.