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Legal Fees in Implant Case Studied

January 6, 1998

CINCINNATI (AP) _ A federal judge must reassess how much of a multimillion-dollar settlement over defective heart valve implants made by a Pfizer Inc. subsidiary should be paid as legal fees.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinatti ruled Monday that U.S. District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel did not review the request well enough before deciding that lawyers for implant recipients should be paid $625,000 annually for 10 years.

The money would come out of a Pfizer Inc.’s settlement of suits filed by people who received implants made by Shiley Inc., which is owned by New York-based Pfizer.

The case produced a worldwide settlement for patients who claimed that the implants were defective. Failure of a strut in the valve was blamed for the deaths of more than 360 people.

The lawyers originally requested $712,987 annually for 10 years.

The appeals court said another federal judge previously ruled that recipients’ lawyers could be paid up to $625,000 annually if federal courts determined that they had done enough work to merit that amount. Spiegel erred by automatically awarding that amount, appeals Judges Boyce Martin Jr., Robert Krupansky and Martha Craig Daughtrey ruled.

The court also ordered him to review the payment each year.

The amount represents 10 percent of the $6.25 million that Pfizer is to pay annually from 1996 until 2005 as contributions to a patient benefit fund.

About 50,000 of the implant recipients are living, their lawyers have estimated.

Public Citizen Litigation Group, a watchdog organization, argued that too much of the settlement would go to the recipients’ lawyers under the plan the courts approved.

The lawyers say they are owed the money based on hourly rates and expenses.

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