Medicare Compliance 101 for Trial Lawyers

On March 18th, 2019, the United States Attorney for the District of Maryland announced that a Maryland personal injury law firm had agreed to pay the United States $250,000 to settle claims that it did not Reimburse Medicare for payments made on behalf of a firm client.  As part of the settlement, the firm “also agreed to (1) designate a person at the firm responsible for paying Medicare secondary payer debts; (2) train the designated employee to ensure that the firm pays these debts on a timely basis; and (3) review any outstanding debts with the designated employee at least every six months to ensure compliance.” 

This is the second such settlement in last year.  Back in June of 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement with a Philadelphia personal injury law firm involving failure to reimburse Medicare.  The firm agreed to start a Medicare “compliance program” within their firm as part of the settlement.  Both of these settlements should remind attorneys of “their obligation to reimburse Medicare for conditional payments after receiving [a] settlement or judgment proceeds for their clients [as well as] not to disburse settlement proceeds until receipt of a final demand from Medicare to pay the outstanding debt.”  

Consequently in today’s complicated regulatory landscape, a comprehensive plan for Medicare compliance has become vitally important to personal injury practices.  Lawyers assisting Medicare beneficiaries are personally exposed to damages and malpractice risks daily when they handle or resolve cases for Medicare beneficiaries.  The list of things to be concerned about is growing every day.  The list includes things such as:

  1. Not knowing what medical information/ICD codes are being reported by defendant insurers complying with Mandatory Insurer Reporting law (MIR) created by MMSEA.  42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(7)-(8).
  2. Agreeing to onerous “Medicare Compliance” language that may be inapplicable or inaccurate which binds the personal injury victim. 
  3. Failing to report and resolve conditional payment obligations leading to personal liability.
  4. Not using techniques to obtain money back from Medicare using the compromise and waiver process. 
  5. Failure to identify a lien, such as those asserted by Medicare Part C lien holders thereby exposing the personal injury lawyer and the firm to double damages.
  6. Inadequate education of clients about Medicare compliance when it comes to ‘futures’ and the risks of denial of future injury related care. 

This article focuses on educating trial lawyers and making suggestions for protecting your clients as well as your practice when it comes to dealing with clients who are part of the tort system and Medicare beneficiaries. 

The Basics

The Medicare program is made up of different parts.  Part A and Part B are thought of as ‘traditional Medicare’ which includes hospital insurance and medical insurance.  Part D is prescription drug coverage that is provided by private insurers approved by and funded by Medicare.  Part C – Medicare ‘Advantage Plans’ or MAOs, offers all of the coverages through Parts A, B and D but through a private insurer approved by Medicare. 

There is a connection between Medicare eligibility and Social Security Disability Income (hereinafter SSDI).  SSDI is the only way to get Medicare coverage prior to retirement age.  This is pertinent as many injury victims become Medicare eligible by virtue of disability.  Medicare and Social Security Disability Income benefits are an entitlement and are not income or asset sensitive like Medicaid/SSI.  Clients who meet Social Security’s definition of disability and have paid in enough quarters into the system can receive disability benefits without regard to their financial situation.  Medicare entitlement commences at age sixty-five or two years after becoming disabled under Social Security’s definition of disability. 

Medicare Secondary Payer Act & Mandatory Insurer Reporting

The MSP is a series of statutory provisions enacted in 1980 as part of the Omnibus Reconciliation Act with the goal of reducing federal health care costs.  See 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(6) (2007).  The MSP provides that if a primary payer exists, Medicare only pays for medical treatment relating to an injury to the extent that the primary payer does not pay.  42 CFR § 411.20(2) Part 411, Subpart B, (2007).  The regulations that implement the MSP provide “[s]ection 1862(b)(2)(A)(ii) of the Act precludes Medicare payments for services to the extent that payment has been made or can reasonably be expected to be made promptly under any of the following” (i) Workers’ compensation; (ii) Liability insurance; (iii) No-fault insurance.  Id.

The passage of the Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Extension Act of 2007 (MMSEA) has triggered heightened concerns of all parties to a settlement involving a Medicare beneficiary.  Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Extension Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-173).  Part of this Act, Section 111, extends the government’s ability to enforce the Medicare Secondary Payer Act.  42 U.S.C. § 1395y(b)(7)-(8).  As of April 1, 2011, an RRE, (liability insurer, self-insurer, no-fault insurer and workers’ compensation carriers) must determine whether a claimant is a Medicare beneficiary (“entitled”) and if so provide certain information to the Secretary of Health and Human (hereinafter “Secretary”) Services when the claim is resolved.  This is the so-called Mandatory Insurer Requirement, MIR for short.  Id.

The advent of MIR causes some very real and difficult problems for lawyers handling claims involving Medicare beneficiaries.  For example, the biggest problem with the reporting requirement is the required disclosure of ICD medical diagnosis codes which identify the medical conditions that are injury related.  These ICD codes can form the basis for the care potentially rejected by Medicare in the future.  If the plaintiff and plaintiff counsel are unaware of the conditions disclosed by the defendant/insurer through the reporting process, there could be some serious problems when the plaintiff seeks medical care from Medicare in the future.  For example, if unrelated ICD codes are reported it could trigger an unwarranted denial of care.  Another example arises when the date of accident that is reported doesn’t match up with what the plaintiff reports.  If the defendant insurer reports a date of accident that doesn’t match with what was reported by plaintiff counsel, it could trigger a second and new conditional payment demand from Medicare.  This often leads to frustration and complication in resolving the conditional payment obligation.

Given the foregoing, I suggest that the parties should collaborate on this aspect of the Medicare settlement process.  The practical problem is that defense counsel typically is unaware of what is being reported and the ICD codes aren’t included in the release.  Accordingly, there are no guarantees that even if the parties discuss this aspect of the reporting conundrum that the right codes will be reported.  However, it still bears emphasis and discussion.  Without focusing on this issue as part of the settlement process, a plaintiff, plaintiff lawyer or an elder law attorney involved in the case may find there are serious unintended repercussions that result.

MMSEA/MIR Release Language

In this new age of hypervigilance surrounding Medicare Compliance as a result of MIR, release language about protecting Medicare can be longer than the release itself.  This language is frequently inaccurate or wholly inapplicable.  In practice, I have seen language that mandates that the personal injury victim will not apply for Medicare or even Social Security Disability benefits.  Equally as bad, language is frequently included that place a burden on the plaintiff to comply with requirements that aren’t mandated by any law.  Most of the language improperly cites statutes or regulations that don’t say anything relevant to the issues at hand.   

Therefore, great care needs to be taken by the personal injury practitioner in terms of what is agreed upon and included in the release.  It is simple to address these issues concisely and in a way that doesn’t place any onerous obligations upon the plaintiff.  Every case is different and the facts dictate the use of different language each time but there is a core set of provisions that can be done in one simple paragraph to deal with the Medicare related issues at hand. 

MMSEA/MIR and Conditional Payments

The stated intent of the new reporting requirements was to identify situations where Medicare should not be the primary payer and ultimately allow recovery of conditional payments.  The Medicare Secondary Payer Act (MSP) prohibits Medicare from making payments if payment has been made or is reasonably expected to be made by a workers’ compensation plan, liability insurance, no fault insurance or a group health plan.  42 CFR § 411.20(2) Part 411, Subpart B, (2007).  However, Medicare may make a “conditional payment” if one of the primary plans does not pay or can’t be expected to pay promptly.  42 U.S.C.S. § 1395y(b)(2)(B).  These “conditional payments” are made subject to being repaid when the primary payer pays.  Id.   When conditional payments are made by Medicare, the government has a right of recovery against the settlement proceeds.  42 U.S.C.S. § 1395y(b)(2)(B)(iii). 

Resolution of Conditional Payments

Resolution of the government’s interests concerning conditional payment obligations is simple in application but time consuming.  The process of reporting the settlement starts with contacting the BCRC (Benefits Coordination Recovery Contractor).  This starts prior to settlement so that you can obtain and review a conditional payment letter (CPL).  These letters are preliminary and can’t be relied upon to pay Medicare from.  However, they are necessary to review and audit for removal of unrelated care.  Once settlement is achieved, Medicare must be given the details regarding settlement so that they issue a final demand.  Once the final demand is issued, Medicare must be paid its final demand amount regardless of whether an appeal, compromise or waiver is sought.  Paying the final demand amount within sixty days of issuance is required or interest begins to accrue at over ten percent and ultimately it is referred to the U.S. Treasury for an enforcement action to recover the unpaid amount if not addressed.  42 C.F.R. 411.24(m).

Resolution of Conditional Payments – Appeal, Compromise or Waiver

The repayment formula for Medicare is set by the Code of Federal Regulations.  411.37(c) & (d) prescribe a reduction for procurement costs and that is it.  42 C.F.R. 411.37(c) &(d).  The formula doesn’t consider liability related issues in the case, caps on damages or policy limits.  The end result can be that the entire settlement must be used to reimburse Medicare.  The only alternatives are to appeal which requires you to go through four levels of internal Medicare appeals before you ever get to step foot before a federal judge or compromise/waiver.  There is plenty of case law requiring exhaustion of the internal Medicare appeals processes which means that Medicare appeals are lengthy as well as an unattractive resolution method.  See Alcorn v. Pepples, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19627 (W.D. Ky. Feb. 25, 2011).  What makes them even more unattractive is the fact that interest continues to accrue during the appeal so long as the final demand amount remains unpaid.

An alternative resolution method is requesting a compromise or waiver post payment of the final demand.  By paying Medicare their final demand and requesting compromise/waiver, the interest meter stops running.  If Medicare grants a compromise or waiver, they actually issue a refund back to the Medicare beneficiary.  There are three viable ways to request a compromise/waiver.  The first is via Section 1870(c) of the Social Security Act which is the financial hardship waiver and is evaluated by the BCRC.  42 U.S.C. § 1395gg.  The second is via section 1862(b) of the Social Security Act which is the “best interest of the program” waiver and is evaluated by CMS itself.  42 U.S.C § 1395y.  The final is under the Federal Claims Collection Act and the compromise request is evaluated by CMS.  31 U.S.C. § 3711.  If any of these are successfully granted, Medicare will refund the amount that was paid via the final demand or a portion thereof depending on whether it is a full waiver or just a compromise. 

Part C Plans – The “Hidden” Lien

Now that you have gone through the resolution process for your client and gotten the conditional payment related issues dealt with you might think you are finished, but alas, you are not.  Or you might not be.  What lurks out there is that a Part C Advantage Plan (hereinafter MAO) may have paid for some or all of your client’s care.  You may ask how that is possible when you were told that the client was a Medicare beneficiary and Part A/B was paid back for conditional payments.  The reason is that MAOs aren’t Medicare and injury victim clients can elect to enroll in an MAO during relevant enrollment periods.  Therefore, an MAO may have made payments after election of which you are completely unaware.  Neither Medicare, BCRC nor CMS will alert you to this fact nor do they have any information as it relates to MAOs.  Therefore, attorneys handling matters that involve a Medicare beneficiary must be vigilant and do their own due diligence to track down possible MAO liens or face the possibility of having to personally pay double the lien.  Although shocking, it is an area of the law that is rapidly developing in favor of MAO plans. 

MAO plans use the Medicare Secondary Payer statute as the basis for their claims to reimbursement.  42 C.F.R. § 422.108(f).  Accordingly, their repayment formulas are the same as Medicare under 411.37 (c) and (d) which only requires a procurement cost reduction.  That being said, these plans are typically willing to negotiate and arguably must provide a mechanism for a compromise or waiver if they avail themselves of the MSP in terms of their recovery rights.  All of that is well and good but what happens when you don’t know that an MAO has a lien?  The answer is fairly ominous for all the parties to a personal injury settlement.  A private cause of action can be brought as an enforcement action for double the amount of the lien.  See Humana Medical Plan, Inc. v. Western Heritage Insurance Company, 832 F. 3d 1229 (11th Cir. 2016).  This right is provided for in the Medicare Secondary Payer Act itself.  While parties have long been afraid of the government using this provision, it is on behalf of the MAOs that these actions are now being brought effectively to enforce their reimbursement rights times two. 

In summary, when it comes to MAO liens there is a good chance you may be unaware that a lien exists without your own research.  A good practice is to obtain copies of all government assistance program cards and any health insurance cards to see just what the injury victim is receiving in terms of benefits/insurance coverage.  Make sure a thorough investigation is done if the client is a Medicare beneficiary for the existence of Part C/MAO liens.  The investigation and inquiry should start upon intake and continue throughout representation with the final check occurring before disbursement of settlement proceeds.  Failing to do so may expose you and your firm to personal liability for double damages to a Part C Plan or Medicare itself.  Once a Part C/MAO lien is identified, you must aggressively pursue reduction methods either using traditional lien reduction arguments if the MAO doesn’t insist upon adherence to the MSP or using the MSP’s compromise or waiver process. 

Medicare Futures – The Unregulated New Frontier

Today, there is a very real threat of Medicare denying future injury related care after the personal injury case is resolved.  This can be very easily triggered by the MIR and reporting of injury related ICD codes that happens automatically now with any settlement of one thousand dollars or greater.  Once a denial of care is triggered, a Medicare beneficiary has to go through the 4 levels of internal Medicare appeals plus a federal district court before ever getting the denial of care addressed by a federal appeals court.  This is why it must be of primary concern for the personal injury practitioner to address these issues.  Particularly so in catastrophic injury cases where denial of care could be devastating to the injury victim’s medical quality of life. 

When it comes to set asides, there are a few key takeaways from this portion of the article.  First, you only have to worry about this issue if you are dealing with someone that is a current Medicare beneficiary or arguably those with a reasonable expectation of becoming one within 30 months.  The latter includes those who have applied for or begun receiving Social Security Disability benefits.  At present, there is no regulation, statute or case law requiring a Medicare Set Aside to deal with futures.  Instead, it has become analogous to the situation in resolving cases with those who are on Medicaid or SSI.  In those cases, a client must be educated about the opportunity to set up a special needs trust to remain eligible for needs based benefits. Similarly, a Medicare beneficiary should be informed about the opportunity to set up a Medicare Set Aside to protect future Medicare eligibility for injury related care.  The good news for attorneys assisting Medicare beneficiaries, is that a Medicare Set Aside allocation can be used in an offensive manner to set the floor for medical damages in a case. 

All of that being said, you might be wondering why even consider doing a Medicare Set Aside when they aren’t required by any law?  The answer is that it is less important as to whether anything is actually set aside versus doing the legal analysis to determine why anything should be set aside.  Said a different way, this is a plaintiff issue and not a defense issue.  The only penalty for failing to address this is issue is the potential loss of future Medicare coverage for any injury related care.  So you ultimately want to educate the client on the risks of failing to do a set aside analysis and then document your file about what was being done.  The next question might be: What risk is there if there isn’t any law requiring set asides?   Again, the answer boils down to CMS’s interpretation of the MSP.  According to CMS, since Medicare isn’t supposed to pay for future medical expenses covered by a liability or Workers’ Compensation settlement, judgment or award, it recommends that injury victims set aside a sufficient amount of a personal injury settlement to cover future medical expenses that are Medicare covered.  CMS’s ‘recommended’ way to protect future Medicare benefit eligibility is establishment of an MSA to pay for injury related care until exhaustion.  See Sally Stalcup, MSP Regional Coordinator (May 2011 Handout).  See also Charlotte Benson, Medicare Secondary Payer – Liability Insurance (Including Self-Insurance) Settlements, Judgments, Awards, or Other Payments and Future Medicals – INFORMATION, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Memorandum, September 29, 2011. 

What is a Medicare Set Aside?

Before getting into an overview of the regulatory environment of MSAs, it is first important to explain what exactly a set aside is.  An MSA is a portion of settlement proceeds set aside, called an “allocation,” to pay for future Medicare-covered services that must be exhausted prior to Medicare paying for any future care related to the injury.  The amount of the set aside is determined on a case-by-case basis and is submitted to CMS for approval if it is a Workers’ Compensation case and fits within the review thresholds established by CMS.  CMS’s review and approval process is voluntary.  There are no formal guidelines for submission of liability settlements and the CMS Regional Offices determine whether or not to review liability submissions (most presently do not review).  CMS explains on its Web site that the purpose of a Medicare set aside is to “pay for all services related to the claimant’s work-related injury or disease, therefore, Medicare will not make any payments (as a primary, secondary or tertiary payer) for any services related to the work-related injury or disease until nothing remains in the WCMSA.” 

Regulatory ‘Scheme’ – What if Any ‘Law’ is there as it relates to Set Asides in Personal Injury Settlements?

A formal ‘Medicare Set Aside’ is not required by a federal statute even in Workers’ Compensation cases where they have been commonplace since 2001.  Instead, CMS has intricate guidelines and FAQs on their website for nearly every aspect of set asides from when to do one, to submission to administration for Workers’ Compensation settlements.  There are only limited guidelines for liability settlements involving Medicare beneficiaries.  Without codification of set asides, there are no clear cut appellate procedures from arbitrary CMS decisions and no definitive rules one can count on as it relates to Medicare set asides.  While there is no legal requirement that an MSA be created, the failure to do so may result in Medicare refusing to pay for future medical expenses related to the injury until the entire settlement is exhausted.  There has been a slow progression towards a CMS policy of creating set asides in liability settlements as a result of the MMSEA’s passage and the onset of MIR.  This culminated with the presumed codification of formal regulations back in 2014.  However, without explanation those regulations were withdrawn after having gone through significant vetting along with public commentary.  The apparent reason was complaints from both sides about the regulations fairness and workability in practice. 

In 2016, it became evident that CMS was not deterred by previous failed attempts at codification of rules for set asides in liability cases and determined to develop a process to avoid shifting of the burden to Medicare post resolution of a personal injury settlement.   Late in the fall of 2018, the Office of Management and Budget issued a notification from the Department of Health and Human Services which oversees CMS of a proposed rule related to the MSP.  The abstract of the rule says it “would ensure that beneficiaries are making the best health care choices possible by providing them and their representatives with the opportunity to select an option for meeting future medical obligations that fits their individual circumstances, while also protecting the Medicare Trust Fund.”  It indicated that the rule was “economically significant” and the basis for the legal authority was 42 U.S.C. 1396y(b).  The final rule is expected sometime in 2019.

So while there is no regulation or statute requiring anything be done when it comes to set asides, sticking your head in the sand isn’t the answer.  It is obvious that Medicare interprets the MSP as preventing shifting the burden from a primary payer to Medicare post resolution of a personal injury settlement.  The problem is: How do you do that in a liability settlement given the issues that cause those cases to frequently settle for less than full value?  Unfortunately, there is no good answer to that question. 

What do you do to be totally Medicare Compliant?

So what do lawyers assisting Medicare beneficiaries do given all of the foregoing?  In my opinion, you must put into place a method of screening your files to determine those that involve Medicare beneficiaries or those with a reasonable expectation of becoming a Medicare beneficiary within 30 months.  You must contact Medicare and report appropriately the settlement to get a final demand.  Then, you audit the final demand and avail yourself of the compromise/waiver process.  You must also make sure you identify any potential Part C/MAO liens and resolve those as well. 

Conclusion

Start early and do not let the defendant-insurer control the Medicare compliance process.  At the outset of your case you have to confirm disability eligibility with Social Security and get copies of all insurance as well as government assistance cards.  Make sure you understand who is potentially Medicare eligible such as those who are on SSDI, those turning 65, someone with end stage renal disease (ESRD), Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) or a child disabled before age 22 with a parent drawing Social Security benefits.  Collaborate with the other side regarding what is being reported under MIR.  Be active in mandating the proper ICD codes to be included in the release. 

All lawyers assisting those on Medicare must be in the know when it comes to dealing with Medicare conditional payments as well as Part C/MAO liens.  Medicare beneficiaries must understand the risk of losing their Medicare coverage should they decide to set aside nothing from their personal injury settlement for future Medicare covered expenses related to the injury.  So it is about educating the client to make sure they can make an informed decision relative to these issues.  Beyond education of the client, the most critical issue becomes how to properly document your file about what was done and why.  This part is where the experts come into play.  For most practitioners, it is nearly impossible to know all of the nuances and issues that arise with the Medicare Secondary Payer Act.  From identifying liens, resolving conditional payments, deciding to set money aside, the creation of the allocation to the release language and the funding/administration of a set aside, there are issues that can be daunting for even the most well informed personal injury practitioner.  Without proper consultation and guidance, mistakes can lead to unhappy clients or worse yet a legal malpractice claim. 

The lesson to take away from this article, is not to wind up in federal court over these issues.  Instead, deal with these issues pre-settlement strategically.  If a client is a Medicare beneficiary, then make sure you know which ICD codes will be reported under the Mandatory Insurer Reporting law and evaluate with the client the possibility of a set aside.  Discuss with competent experts the proper steps for MSP compliance.  Potentially use the set aside as an element of damages to help improve settlement value.  Properly word the release if a set aside is being used to make sure the client doesn’t get saddled with inappropriate language or lose itemized deductions.  Appropriate planning will avoid a bad outcome or unnecessary trips to federal court. 

About the Author

Jason D. Lazarus, J.D., LL.M., CSSC, MSCC is a founding Principal and Chief Executive Officer of Synergy Settlement Services.  Synergy allows trial lawyers to focus on what they do best by handling the difficult issues at settlement such as lien resolution, Medicare Secondary Payer Compliance, public benefit preservation, settlement planning and tax deferral of contingent legal fees. Synergy’s multi-dimensional approach is powerful and cost effective, enabling plaintiff law firms to focus on cases while trusting Synergy to deliver strong results to their clients. Contact Marci Gordon, Synergy director of Sales and Client Services: marci@synergysettlements.com, tel: (407) 279-4812 or visit synergysettlements.com for more information.

Pelvic Mesh Remains on the Market

There is a lot of confusion about the April 16, 2019 announcement by the FDA to stop the sale of the remaining POP transvaginal meshes.

“Pelvic Mesh Off the Market” were the glaring headlines.

But that simply is not true.

Mesh used to treat incontinence, or stress urinary incontinence (SUI) as it’s commonly called, remains on the market and even one medical society, calls it the Gold Standard.

The majority of the product liability cases filed in federal court in West Virginia in multidistrict litigation and in various state courts are SUI mesh, which at this time numbers in excess of 126,000 cases.

SUI Mesh

Stress urinary incontinence mesh is sometimes called a “ribbon” or a “sling,” or a “hammock,” because it resembles a ribbon. It is made of polypropylene plastic and at about one inch wide and up to 18 inches long, transvaginal mesh is inserted through incisions in the vagina to cradle the urethra.

 (A look at a youTube video and one would never undergo this procedure.).

The ends exit through the abdomen or groin.

This is a permanent medical device even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration did not require any clinical trials. 

We have the FDA’s 510(k) clearance process to thank for that oversight.  A fast-track clearance to the market, it is intended to be the “least burdensome” path to the market.

POP Mesh

The announcement last April concerns POP mesh, also known as pelvic organ prolapse mesh. This is a larger mesh made with more polypropylene and responsible for some of the most horrendous injuries. It too can never be removed.

In mid-2016, the FDA finally reclassified POP mesh as “high risk” from a moderate risk status (class II). That meant it had a higher bar to cross to the market.  No more 510(k) fast track clearances, high risk meant it had to go through the same clearance as drugs, that is, clinical trials.

Most manufacturers simply removed their POP mesh from the market but a few held out hope.

That included the Boston Scientific Uphold, Xenform and Coloplast Restorelle Direct. The two companies had hoped their FDA mandated post-approval reviews would suffice for clinical trials. 

In April, the FDA finally said No!  Even though POP mesh dangers were discussed at an FDA expert panel that convened in September 2011, it took until April 2019 for the FDA to finally say No! You can’t enter the market without clinical trials.

Again, this FDA decision has no impact on the SUI meshes that remain on the market to treat incontinence.

For a woman who needs support of her pelvic organs that can fall with gravity and following childbirth, pelvic organ prolapse, there are alternatives. Suture repair is the standard and the Y-shaped mesh can still be implanted but through the abdomen, not the vagina.

These POP meshes are considered moderate risk and are Class II medical devices. They therefore do not have to go through premarket approval and clinical trials as mandated in the up-classification of transvaginal POP mesh by the FDA in 2016.

A surgeon can still choose a sheet of polypropylene mesh and cut her own mesh implant for an abdominal POP implant. Sheets of mesh, the same mesh used for hernia repair, are still Class II and available on the market.

With about one million hernia mesh implants a year, and complications emerging from some of those patients, we are beginning to understand that polypropylene mesh is a major public health issue.

The FDA decision marks a stop but in no way signals the end of the use of transvaginal mesh as a whole!

As the public becomes more aware, women and men seeking hernia repairs are asking more questions but doctors too are providing more answers, some untruthful such as “it’s different mesh,” or the “bad stuff has been recalled.”

Mesh News Desk has heard these reports from the newly implanted people and it is unfortunate.

Ultimately, we may find that polypropylene is the culprit and, as a search for a better more biocompatible material is underway, patients offered a mesh implant should ask about their other options, whether their doctor can perform a native tissue repair, a suture alone repair, and whether the material offered is polypropylene.

If so, you might seek another opinion. 

FDA Approved Medical Devices: Least Burdensome for Whom?

FDA Approved Medical Devices: Least Burdensome for Whom?

Least burdensome.” 

It is the mandate used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to guide how it regulates medical devices.

Sounds good doesn’t it?   Of course patients expect the watchdog agency to be protecting the public health and safety by approving only the safest, most effective medical devices that are the least burdensome on American’s health and welfare.

Unfortunately that assumption is dead wrong.

As if we didn’t have enough proof of government working at the behest of corporations, least burdensome is regulatory language that imposes the least burden on industry!  

Blame the rosy promises of “innovation,” made by device manufacturers hoping to turn enormous profits with very little regulatory oversight.

How did we get here?

Until 1975, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not have the authority to regulate medical devices. 

Only drugs had to prove their safety and effectiveness

The push for regulation came from Congress after the Dalkon Shield IUDand other contraceptive intrauterine devices made front page news and countless numbers of American women were harmed.  

Around this same time, there were thousands of medical devices already being sold that were increasingly complicated and implantable. 

More stringent regulation was required.

At first, devices had to undergo premarket approval (PMA), which is the most stringent submission to the FDA. It requires extensive testing, clinical trials, and valid scientific data.  

So Congress developed an easier pathway to the marketplace. 

In 2002, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act Amended the FDA’s Modernization Act of 1997 to add the “Least Burdensome Provisions.”

The language says in order to have the FDA approve any medical device, data should be provided to establish its effectiveness, however, “The Secretary shall consider, in consultation with the applicant, the least burdensome appropriate means of evaluating device effectiveness that would have a reasonable likelihood of resulting in approval.” (Section 513 (a) (3) (D) (ii) ).

It goes on,…”the Secretary shall only request information that is necessary to making substantial equivalence determinations….the Secretary shall consider the least burdensome means of demonstrating substantial equivalence and request information accordingly.”

In other words, the FDA holds hands with industry to walk it through the approval process in the fastest way possible to get to the marketplace.

The FDA’s 510(k) provision became the “least burdensome” way to enter the market.  It didn’t require costly clinical trials.  All manufacturers had to do was name a “substantial equivalent” device already marketed, as a “predicate device,” even if the mechanism or material was different.   

Approval could take place in about 90 days at a substantially reduced cost. 

In 2005, the average cost for a 510(K) review was a fee of about $4,000, compared to a PMA fee of about $200,000, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

A 510(k) fast track to the marketplace would generally happen within 90 days as compared to up to 295 days for a PMA submission.

Reduce review times and costs for new device manufacturers was the goal to keep manufacturer “stakeholders” happy.   But at what cost to Americans?

In a 2011 review of medical device recalls by the National Research Center for Women & Families, the  consumer group found more than two-third of the faulty devices that had caused death or serious harm went through the 510(k) clearance process.

The Institute of Medicine in its 2011 report, (here) called the 510(k) clearance “fatally flawed” and suggested it be abolished.

A poll done by Consumers Union found most Americans believe the safety of patients should be the FDA’s most important mission, not making life easier for medical device makers.

The consumer group reminds us that even a defective medical device can still serve as a “predicate” devices that others can name as a substantial equivalent. 

The FDA currently does not even have the power to require a medical device maker to fix a defectively designed device.  

By 2010, trying to improve the situation, the FDA 510(k) Working Group suggested clinical trials be added to more 510(k) reviews in order to enhance safety. The Working Group also wanted the FDA to have greater authority to require premarket inspections and post-market studies.

The largest lobbying group for medical devices AdvaMed opposed those changes.

AdvaMed (Advanced Medical Technology Association) concluded since so few high-risk devices were cleared through the 510(k) process, those changes weren’t needed and the reports of injuries were overblown, even though more than half of all device recalls (51%) from 2005 to 2010 were cleared through the 510(k). 

As an example of the tail wagging the dog, the FDA is very cognizant it does not want to burden the very industry it regulates with cumbersome regulations.

We’ve seen too many examples of how this love-fest harms American consumers. 

Transvaginal mesh is one that was cleared for market with the least burden on industry, as were metal-on-metal hips, cardiac electrodes, endoscopes, stents, power morcellators, and defibrillators, among others.   

This is not the FDA most Americans envision.  This is not the fearless watchdog that requires a medical device be proven safe and effective, as a priority over profits, no matter how inconvenient it may be for industry.   

But Least Burdensome and the 510(k) provision is the greatest way to get “innovative” medical devices swiftly into commerce with as little oversight as possible.


Interviewer and journalist has been turning her writing talents to legal news since she was a whistle blower some 20 years ago. She won her case against News Corp alleging she was fired for attempting to report news distortion to the FCC. The verdict was later overturned on appeal. Since then she has written consumer and personal injury news for a variety of major personal injury law firms. In 2011, Akre created the only website (www.meshnewsdesk.com) dedicated to exposing the transvaginal mesh mess which continues to this day.  She loves interviewing lawyers who are working in the public interest! janeakre@meshnewsdesk.com

What Women are Told Today About Pelvic Mesh, When Doctors Blame Lawyers

What Women are Told Today About Pelvic Mesh, When Doctors Blame Lawyers

Many people believe that problematic transvaginal mesh has been recalled from the market. 

While it’s true that a few of the more troubling meshes have been quietly and voluntarily removed from the market by industry, the majority remain and are sold and implanted every day.

How can that be considering the reports of complications, pain and permanence?

The answer might fall with the doctors who continue to use mesh. 

These are polypropylene mesh implants used to treat incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. 

The formula hasn’t changed much.

Johnson & Johnson and Boston Scientific have their own proprietary name for their version of polypropylene mesh (PP) (Prolene and Marlex) but they are generally the same heavy weight mesh that is used to hold back a hernia.

Some biologics have evolved (pig, cow, and cadaver) but they not commonly used and are often composites that have a portion of them polypropylene. 

Needless to say, that’s information women don’t often hear during informed consent. Nor do they hear the mesh is made of polypropylene, it can’t come out, you may have chronic pelvic pain, ongoing infections, painful sex, nerve damage from the blind procedure and a return of prolapse and incontinence. 

In some women, a foreign body response incites a systemic autoimmune reaction. Oh, and we have no idea who will be affected this way.

Who would agree to sign onto that? So what ARE doctors saying to patients to convince them to have a PP mesh implant? 

At Mesh News Desk, I’ve heard many things from recently implanted women and sad to say, doctors are still not providing true informed consent.

Women Are Told: Don’t Worry, Pelvic Mesh is a lot of Lawyer Hype

Though mesh cases are being settled, the multidistrict litigation amassed more than 104-thousand cases in federal court in Charleston, West Virginia beginning in 2012, more consolidated cases in one court that in any other mass tort.

Plaintiffs have filed defective product lawsuits because there is indisputable evidence that the mesh manufacturers – Boston Scientific, Johnson & Johnson, AMS, CR Bard and the others – knew in advance that their mesh would have problems and they did nothing to stop the fast-track train to marketing. 

Industry trained anyone and everyone with an MD after their name who was looking for a payday – a greater return on medical procedures.   

During trial, doctors have admitted they were expecting a huge jump in income by using pelvic mesh implants that everyone else was using.  They were not told that up to 30% of their patients could have life-altering complications. 

Women Are Told: The Bad Mesh Has Been Recalled

If you live in Canada, you are told the problems with mesh were just in the U.S., or that the problem has been resolved. 

The truth is few meshes have been recalled although a few have been quietly removed from the market for “business reasons,” according to the manufacturer.   

The ProteGen sling, made by Boston Scientific, is an exception. Introduced in 1996, three years later, ProteGen was recalled because of “ahigher than expected rate of vaginal erosion and dehiscence, and does not appear to function as intended.”  

In other words it was defective. 

But removal from the market does not mean forgotten. 

To market a new medical device, first a manufacturer has to name a “predicate” that the new device resembles. That is part of the  FDA 510(k) clearance to market that costs a few thousand dollars and takes about 90 days.

It is a fast-track to market that is the “least burdensome” on industry.

Boston Scientific’s ProteGen is the predicate for at least 60 other meshes that were marketed after it. Surprisingly, there is no mechanism within the FDA that sparks a review of subsequent medical devices based on a defective predicate.

In January 2012, after the FDA required manufactures to do post-market surveillance studies, some mesh makers quietly removed theirs from the market instead of undergoing expensive monitoring.  

Gynecare Prolift Kit and ProliftM+ by Ethicon (Johnson & Johnson), Gynecare Prosima and Gynecare TVT Secur were quietly removed but not formally recalled.  

Without an official FDA recall, the door remains open to reintroducing them to the market, again through the fast-track 510 (k) FDA clearance. 

Women Are Told: Mesh has been used for 50 years without problems

This statement has been repeated to women by doctors wanting to implant pelvic mesh and at trial by the defense lawyers for manufacturers – Boston Scientific, Ethicon (Johnson & Johnson) and CR Bard.   

The issue is the quantity and type of mesh.

That doctor or defense attorney is referring to polypropylene sutures which have been used for decades for sutures and hernia repair.  Since pelvic organ prolapse was thought to be a hernia-like condition, mesh kits with large pre-cut, one-size-fits-all polypropylene mesh were developed.

Of course the quantity of the mesh for a small suture repair and a large mesh implant is not comparable.

As one mesh medical expert for plaintiffs has said, “The more mesh, the more mess.”

Unfortunately, the FDA has not issued any warning about the rate of complications for hernia mesh, though many suffer the same symptoms as pelvic mesh women. 

Women Are Told:  It’s Not Possible that Mesh is Causing Your Pain

The patient doesn’t have pelvic pain before mesh, then after her implant she is in excruciating pain. The doctor says it couldn’t be the mesh.  It’s been placed correctly.  

Until recently, studies did not even consider QOL (Quality of Life) as a factor to define the “success” of a mesh placement. Anatomical placement, in other words, mesh in the correct place defined a “successful” outcome.

Never mind that the woman may be unable to leave her bed because of the complications, much less work or care for children.  Women were told if the mesh was in the correct place, it couldn’t be presenting you with a problem. 

You might want to see a counselor, a psychiatrist or we could send you to pain management. 

Countless women have heard that which only serves to add insult to their injury.  ###

Jane Akre writes about mesh issues on http://www.MeshNewsDesk.com,your only online news resource since 2011 on mesh complications.   I love writing about consumer issues and will help you tell your client’s story.  jeakre@gmail.com,  904-613-2828.


Interviewer and journalist has been turning her writing talents to legal news since she was a whistle blower some 20 years ago. She won her case against News Corp alleging she was fired for attempting to report news distortion to the FCC. The verdict was later overturned on appeal. Since then she has written consumer and personal injury news for a variety of major personal injury law firms. In 2011, Akre created the only website (www.meshnewsdesk.com) dedicated to exposing the transvaginal mesh mess which continues to this day.  She loves interviewing lawyers who are working in the public interest! janeakre@meshnewsdesk.com

Lyndsay Markley

Lyndsay Markley tells AWTL about how one telephone call from a survivor of sexual abuse changed the entire scope of her practice.

Lyndsay Markley is a prominent trial lawyer in Chicago. Although Lyndsay has successfully represented victims in all areas of personal injury law, since forming Lyndsay Markley Law in 2014, she has focused her practice on representing survivors of sexual and physical abuse.  In the past four years alone, Lyndsay has secured tens of millions of dollars on behalf of these clients.

In this interview, Lyndsay tells AWTL about how one telephone call from a survivor of sexual abuse changed the entire scope of her practice.

Q: What led you to focusing on sex abuse cases since it is such a narrow area of the law? Was there something that really triggered your interest in these cases?

A (Markley): “For many years, I represented plaintiffs in all types of cases.  One day I received a telephone call from an adult male describing sexual abuse he suffered as a child and teenager in the 1990s during his participation in a youth-serving program.  Years had passed and nothing was done to provide him or any other victims with justice.  As I listened to the plaintiff recount his abuse, I knew I wanted to help him achieve justice.  I found my calling. That one call changed the focus of my practice and soon I was representing dozens of survivors.”

Q: In the news today, (December 27), is a story that 500 priests accused of sexual abuse have not yet publicly been identified by the Catholic Church. Is the church capable of investigating itself? 

A: “In my opinion, a true review must come from the authorities; however, it is a positive step for any entity to engage in its own internal quality assurance and/or prevention assessment.  In most states, many adults who work with children are “mandated reporters” of suspected physical and sexual abuse, however, prevention is  greatly limited (if not entirely thwarted) when the only time adults are educated to report is after abuse has already taken place. It is essential for the protection of children that adults are properly trained to identify predatory and/or inappropriate behavior that indicates sexual abuse and signs of childhood sexual abuse.”

Q: How do predators get hired? Or remain on a job after exhibiting red flag behavior?

A: “Although each situation is different, generally speaking, hiring a “predator” can occur because an employer failed to perform a background check, including vetting references and engaging in an in-depth interview process that is specific to the level of interaction with minors the position requires. With respect to remaining employed after exhibiting “bad” behavior, many times, the predator grooms the other adults, including supervisors, by engaging in boundary violations of minors and awaiting to see the response.  When the predator’s behavior is not addressed or stopped, it increases their confidence to engage in more boundary violations against children.  That is why teaching adults to report inappropriate behavior toward children even if it doesn’t rise to the level of “sexual abuse” is so important.” 

Q: How has the passage of time hurt your ability to gather evidence or to tap into memories?

A: “In the cases I have prosecuted, we were able to locate witnesses and documents corroborating a theory of liability against the defendant through diligent and aggressive investigation and discovery.  For instance, in one case, it took two years of searching to locate, what turned out to be, a key witness.”

Q: How does the SOL affect your ability to obtain justice for survivors?

“The statute of limitations can be a hurdle based on the date of the abuse and other factors.  Each state has a different statute and, usually, many versions of that statute that can impact a client’s ability to recover for abuse.  Historically, the legislature and judiciary have not taken into account that many sexual abuse survivors did not understand their legal rights until many years after they suffered the physical violation. This will hopefully change with pressure from the #metoo movement.”

Q: How are proving injury and damages in these cases different than other cases?

A: “Demonstrating the significant impact of sexual abuse as an injury and as an economic loss is difficult for a number of reasons.  In order to obtain the maximum recovery for our clients, we create a damage package for the specific client on a case by case basis that includes appropriate use of experts and expert analysis. It is essential to identify the nature of the injury and then work to demonstrate it.  For instance, in one matter, the nature and extent of the sexual abuse indicated a traumatic brain injury.  We worked hard with experts to demonstrate this permanent injury and its lasting consequences.  Another consideration is whether or not the client’s trial recovery can be negatively impacted (based on the geographic location of the claim) by damage caps, i.e. limits to non-economic damages. In these instances, it is very important that the economic damages be clearly demonstrated through use of life care planners, economists, etc.  Of course, an additional damage that can be very significant from a monetary perspective, is effectively proving up a theory that supports a claim for punitive damages.”

Q: How have you seen your clients lives changed after receiving damages? 

A: “Most of my clients have done amazing things with the resources they received from the resolution of their claims.  After obtaining financial resources, many of my clients were able to receive the treatment they have desperately needed but could not afford.  I have also seen many of my clients go back to school or start their own businesses. For many survivors, the acknowledgment of their pain and loss by virtue of a resolution is very healing as well.”

Q: Are there that many pedophiles that we never knew about?  

A: “I think that the answer is probably yes.  Studies have shown that the number of reported sexual assaults are severely underreported.  It might not be that there are ‘that many pedophiles’ but it might be that there is one pedophile with access to a lot of children.  In most of the cases I have worked on, it is usually the latter of those two.” 

“The real question is why are we missing it? I think children have been exhibiting signs of sexual abuse or even telling adults that they have been sexually abused for years.  In the past, deference usually has been shown to the adult which allows the adult to abuse again. I think that it is more commonly the case that one predator abuses multiple children.”

Q: Where is your practice now and where do you see it going?

“Currently, I am expanding my work on behalf of survivors by providing consultative services to attorneys and law firms on a national basis who are seeking to develop a practice representing victims of sexual and physical abuse.  I am also working as a consultant with various organizations to create prevention programming specifically tailored to their organizations goals and risks.” 

Lyndsay Markley Law regularly provides consultative services to attorneys and law firms on a national basis who are seeking to develop a practice representing victims of sexual and physical abuse. If you are interested in speaking with Lyndsay regarding consultation services for your cases, contact her at (312)523-2158 or lm@lyndsaymarkleylaw.com.

Lyndsay has received numerous awards and honors acknowledging her success as a trial attorney, including most recently, being named by The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin as a “40 Under Forty Illinois Attorneys to Watch” in 2018 out of over one thousand nominees. She is regularly interviewed by local and national media, bar associations, and professional organizations as a legal expert.

Lyndsay is licensed to practice in Illinois and was designated as a Trial Attorney to the Trial Bar of the Federal Court of the Northern District of Illinois by the time she was 27 years old. Lyndsay has practiced pro hac vice in a number of States. Before opening Lyndsay Markley Law in 2014, Lyndsay served as a named equity partner at an established Chicago law firm and, notably, was the law firm’s youngest and first female partner in its 60-year history.

Lyndsay Markley Law

Ashley Peinhardt

Attorney Ashley Peinhardt Joins Birmingham Bar Association’s 2018 Executive Committee as a Member-at-Large

Hare Wynn attorney, Ashley Peinhardt was elected to the Birmingham Bar Association’s 2018 Executive Committee on Friday, Dec. 8 as a member-at-large.

Ashley received her law degree from the Cumberland School of Law, and joined Hare Wynn in 2010. Her practice is concentrated in the areas of catastrophic injuries, wrongful death, medical malpractice, birth trauma, dram shop, nursing home negligence and class actions.

She has several multi-million dollar verdicts including her first trial that resulted in a $15 million dollar verdict which she successfully argued on appeal in front of the Alabama Supreme Court. She has been recognized for her legal abilities by many publications including being named by AL.com’s 2015 “Women Who Shape the State”, B-Metro Magazine’s “Top Women Lawyers”, National Trial Lawyers “Top 40 Under 40”, Super Lawyers “Rising Star” and the Birmingham Business Journal as a “Rising Star of Law”.

The Birmingham Bar Association is governed by its Executive Committee, which is comprised of three elected officers (President, President-elect, and Secretary-Treasurer), the immediate Past President, the President or Chair of each Section of the Association, a representative of the Alabama State Bar Board of Bar Commissioners, the representative designated by the Magic City Bar Association, and ten at-large members.

The purposes of the Association are to maintain the honor and dignity of the profession, to promote the administration of justice, to exercise a constructive influence among members of the profession and the life of the community, to promote needed legal reform, to cultivate a spirit of collegiality and goodwill among its members, and to further their continuing legal education.

Alexander Shunnarah managing attorney, Sara Williams, earns national award

A local attorney is the recipient of a national award for professionalism.

Sara Williams, managing attorney at Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys PC, was awarded the Stetson University College of Law Edward D. Ohlbaum Professionalism Award for 2018.

The award honors an individual whose life and practice display sterling character and unquestioned integrity, coupled with ongoing dedication to the highest standards of the legal profession and the rule of law. It is designed to recognize a trial team coach and program director who exemplifies the late Professor Ohlbaum’s commitment to practicing with a high degree of professionalism, integrity and competency.

“I am proud of our managing attorney Sara Williams. She never ceases to amaze me,” said Alexander Shunnarah, president and CEO of Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys PC. “Her level of commitment and passion to her profession has been an added contribution to not only our law firm, but everyone in the legal community, including our clients, who always come first.”

Williams, who has practiced at Alexander Shunnarah since July 2013, has litigated in a large variety of cases across Alabama, including premises liability, motor vehicle negligence, wrongful death and trucking cases.

She became managing attorney for the firm in 2017 and founded the Alexander Shunnarah Women’s Initiative, which seeks to empower female lawyers through networking events and community involvement.

She is an adjunct professor of trial advocacy at her alma mater, Samford University Cumberland School of Law. She is also a coach for the school’s nationally ranked mock trial team and a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board.

Williams was named one of Birmingham Business Journal’s “Top 40 Under 40” in 2017.

By   – Banking and Legal Reporter, Birmingham Business Journal
Ibiere Seck - Alliance of Women Trial Lawyers

Nex Gen – Ibiere Seck Follows In Some Big Footsteps

In 1995, the trial of O.J. Simpson riveted the nation, and Ibiere Seck, a teenager in Washington state, was no different. One person in particular mesmerized her: Johnnie Cochran.

“He had a way about him,” she says. “I felt like: That’s what I want to do.”

She became determined to follow in his footsteps. She wound up doing a better job at that than she could have possibly imagined—not only attending Cochran’s alma mater, not only practicing in his city, but working at his firm: The Cochran Law Firm in Los Angeles.

“Johnnie Cochran’s office is still in the same condition it was when he passed away [in 2005], and my office is right next door to his,” she says. “To be able to go into work and know that just on the other side of that wall, Mr. Cochran sat—it’s humbling. It never gets old for me.”

SECK’S PARENTS raised their large family—10 children in all—in Seattle. They were artists: Her mother was a jeweler, her father a musician and painter. Originally from Senegal, her father was also a griot (pronounced GREE-oh)—a West African storyteller.

“These were people in the community who were tasked with maintaining the history of the community,” says Seck. “Whenever there was a significant event, it had to be passed on in a responsible way. … It was their responsibility to share with the community what had occurred [in their family] up until this point. My father was born into that.”

Seck’s parents instilled a strong sense of family and self. Her mother, seeing Seck’s promise from a young age, encouraged her to become an attorney. “My mother planted the seed,” she says. “I think she recognized when I was young that I could have this amazing opportunity to have an incredible education, and do good work in my community.”

Although she did well in school, she eventually found herself self-conscious about being one of the few students of color in her class. As a result, when she was a preteen, she was homeschooled for two years, then enrolled in American Indian Heritage, a small, largely Native American school specializing in arts and culture. For Seck, it was eye-opening.

Recognizing how much her classmates knew their own family histories, she became determined to do the same with hers. Upon graduation, Seck left for Senegal for a year, staying with relatives, and meeting aunts, uncles and a grandmother she’d never known. For the first time, she was surrounded by people who “looked like me,” she says, “and I saw the beauty in them and in myself.”

It was also the first time she realized how much opportunity she had been born into. Seck had seen poverty in America, she says, but nothing like what she saw in Senegal.

“Something awoke in me,” Seck says. “That’s really when I started to see that I have all of these incredible opportunities, that I truly am privileged, and that I was going to do everything in my power to take advantage of it.”

At Northeastern University in Boston, Seck planned to become an attorney—just not the specifics. “Something along the lines of civil rights,” she says. “I felt like the criminal justice system was corrupt in a sense … just based on what I saw in my communities—how I felt like people of color were targeted. I had a strong sense of this injustice; I knew I wanted to be an advocate.”

She became one sooner than she expected. In her junior year, as part of a campus expansion, the school announced plans to tear down the freestanding John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute and relocate it into an existing building. It had been a system of support for students of color since the 1960s, and Seck, president of both the black student union and black student newspaper, found herself in the middle of a fight. Students, teachers and staff marched, protested and staged a 40-day sleep-in. Eventually, university officials acquiesced: The building remains to this day. For Seck, the experience was a turning point.

“I learned that if you believe in something and you are selfless, good things can come,” she says. “And I remember thinking how much more I could accomplish with a law degree.”

After the LSATs, law school brochures flooded Seck’s mailbox. One of the schools, Loyola, had launched a program that spotlighted illustrious alumni in outreach to prospective students. When Seck opened the brochure, the face staring back at her was Johnnie Cochran.

“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to find out more about this school,’” she says. “I found out that Loyola has one of the best trial advocacy programs in the nation.”

She applied and was accepted, and it didn’t take long for Seck to home in on her path. In her first year, she became interested in a civil rights symposium taught by Gary C. Williams; for a summer internship, she worked for a big firm.

“I made a ton of money—more money than I’d ever seen in my life,” she says. “But I absolutely hated it. I was done. I knew: ‘I am going to work for the people and be a trial lawyer for the people.’”

Seeking trial experience after graduation, she applied for a job with a Little Tokyo-based attorney who needed an associate to help with trial prep. She didn’t get the job, but the attorney was so impressed he asked if he could recommend her to an attorney at a different firm.

That attorney was Joe Barrett, a partner at The Cochran Firm.

“I was highly impressed,” says Barrett, now at Affeld Grivakes. “She was very advanced in her skills and maturity, and had a magnetic personality. She has a thirst for knowledge.”

One month later, Seck got the call.

“[It was] The Cochran Firm, saying, ‘We’re hiring. Do you want a job?’” she remembers. “I’ve never looked back.”

SPECIALIZING IN CATASTROPHIC INJURY, wrongful death and sexual abuse of minors, Seck has quickly carved out a name for herself in the field of civil rights litigation. She gained national attention for her work on a sex abuse case in which her client, a young teenager, was repeatedly assaulted by a coworker while both did custodial work with U.S. Metro Group, a facilities service. The abuse went on for over a year.

The civil case landed with Robert Simon, co-founder of the Simon Law Group, who was working with attorney Thomas Feher; Simon reached out to see if Seck could help. The two knew each other from board work in LA. “She has always been a star,” says Simon.

At first, says Seck, the case didn’t look good. When she and the victim first met, the girl was using drugs heavily and was being held at a facility in Orange County. “She was just in a really, really bad state,” says Seck. “I was thinking, ‘Who is going to believe her?’ But once I sat down with her and heard her story and the details that she provided, there was no way you could deny that it occurred.”

Over months of meeting with the girl, getting to know her, talking about everything besides the assault case—movies, books, family, school—she began to earn the girl’s trust. That was key. “She trusted no one,” says Seck. “She had been betrayed in so many ways that she just didn’t believe anyone was looking out for her best interests.”

After trust was established, Seck says, “We were able to do some really incredible work on her case.” This included hiring a private investigator to find other employees who had been victimized by the same man, and building a case to prove that U.S. Metro knew about his actions and kept him on payroll regardless—even once honoring him as employee of the year.

“The strategy was to expose [U.S. Metro] as the liars that they were,” says Seck. “They knew from the time they received the first complaint of harassment that they should have shown this man the door. Instead, they [held] him up in the company in such a way that all of his victims felt like they would never be heard, they would never be believed, and they would just have to shut up and take his abuse.”

After initially being offered a $5,000 settlement, their client won a $2.6 million verdict in Van Nuys, one of the more conservative districts in the Los Angeles area.

Seck’s work didn’t stop with the verdict. She reunited her client with a former foster family in the Bay Area and helped her move there. Seck arranged for a financial planner to set up a trust, allowing the girl to finish high school and begin a cosmetology program—the first step in her long-term plan, created with Seck’s help and encouragement, toward one day owning her own salon.

“We spent a lot of time mapping out what kind of life she wanted to live,” says Seck. “She is now 20 or 21 and doing well.”

For their efforts, Simon and Seck won the Consumer Attorneys of California’s Street Fighter of the Year Award in 2016. Simon notes that Seck’s outstanding efforts hinged on her passion, and, much like her father and relatives back in Senegal, her abilities as a storyteller.

“Ibiere is the most fearless advocate,” Simon says. “She will speak up about anything if it’s not right. In a courtroom, she comes across as soft and caring. I remember her doing direct questioning with the plaintiff, very powerful and emotional stuff, and incredible storytelling. She speaks from the heart.”

LATELY, SECK HAS TURNED HER ATTENTIONS to her own family, having recently given birth to her second child. She and her husband, who live in the View Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, also have a 6-year-old son. Just weeks after giving birth, Seck was working again while simultaneously caring for her newborn daughter.

“I attended the National Trial Lawyers Summit in Miami [in January],” she says. “I took my daughter on her first flight.”

Her current cases include representing victims of sexual abuse across the country, and working with the victims of the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, in which 36 people were killed when an artist’s warehouse burned to the ground.

She tries to visit her parents in Seattle once a year, and her relatives in Senegal every other year, and to involve her children in her work as much as possible. “I have made it a point to talk to my son about my work, in the hopes that he understands why it is that I do the type of work that I do,” she says.

Seck was never able to meet Johnnie Cochran. But among those who did know the legendary attorney, she’s already made a lasting impression. “He would be proud,” says Barrett, “to know that Ibiere Seck is a leader at his firm.”

She has now opened her own law firm, Seck Law, P.C. where her primary practice is catastrophic injuries, wrongful death and sexual abuse of minors.  Ibiere was recently elected Secretary of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles, the largest plaintiff trial lawyers association in the nation,  and will lead the association as its President in 2024. She is the immediate past-president of the National Black Lawyers: Top 40 Under 40.

BY DUSTIN SNIPES

Kerrie Campbell - Speaker - Alliance of Women Trial Lawyers

Equal Pay Pioneer Reflects On What It’s Like To Sue A Biglaw Firm

Kerrie Campbell thinks it’s everyone’s responsibility to challenge blatant inequality

Even if you don’t remember the name Kerrie Campbell, chances are you’ve read a story (or two or three) about her. She is the former Chadbourne & Parke partner who took the world of Biglaw by storm when she sued her firm over a gender pay gap.

Styled as a purported class action, the case took on a total of three named plaintiffs before it was settled. Chadbourne, the firm Campbell sued, no longer exists — it was swallowed up in a merger with Norton Rose, but her experience taking on some of the best in the legal profession is illuminating. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Campbell, and she was happy to shine the light on what it is like to call out a Biglaw firm in court.

Initially, I wanted to find out from Campbell what is was like the moment she realized she believed she was being paid less than her male counterparts. Campbell said she first had an inkling something was wrong with her compensation way back in her first year as a lateral partner. The firm circulated a year-end ranking of partner compensation — revealing the pecking order as it were — and given the amount of work she’d been billing she just knew something was wrong — a “shocking revelation” was how Campbell characterized it. And it was a real eye opening moment for Campbell as a lateral partner with 30 years of Biglaw experience and a solid book of business.

Campbell said she made the decision to sue her former firm when she realized merely leaving the firm or just complaining about it would never be enough to move the needle. Year after year studies and reports detailing the gender pay gap in the legal industry are published but little changes; Campbell asked herself “what am I going to do about it?” That question forced Campbell’s hand, in a manner of speaking, and she knew she had little choice but to file a lawsuit against her firm.

As one might imagine, the reality of litigating against a giant law firm is stressful — and even seasoned litigators noted how contentious this suit was. As a trial lawyer herself, Campbell said she wasn’t surprised at the way the suit went down. She says the way defendants in discrimination cases tend to react to a lawsuit is largely predictable and that was something she was ready for. But the way that her local professional community reacted to the lawsuit was a little surprising. Campbell said that, for the most part, professional colleagues in D.C. were hesitant to discuss, or even acknowledge, the case while it was ongoing. But interestingly, the converse was also true. People she’d never met from around the country reached out to Campbell expressing their support and letting her know they were rooting for her. Through it all Campbell says she has no regrets about filing the lawsuit.

Campbell believes there is more than just a culture of secrecy regarding the inner working of firms — including partner compensation — that allows a gender pay gap to exist. In fact, she says there is a “laundry list” of factors that keep it alive. One of the biggest issues she identifies is the one/two punch of complacency and silence. There is so much at risk for women at law firms, and they are so busy growing their own practice, they have little time to worry about the broader issue of a gender pay gap. But Campbell says acceptance of the status quo is unacceptable, and women need to speak up, support those who do, and challenge blatant inequality.

There are, however, structural barriers that sometimes prevent women from openly challenging the existing system. One of the biggest issues Campbell sees on that front is the existence of mandatory arbitration clauses — in employment or partnership agreements. This often means that even if a women is courageous enough to bring the issue to her employer’s attention, no one knows about it and there is no public debate (or accountability) about the firm’s practices. Campbell is a litigator at heart, and she believes access to courts (and the accompanying judicial scrutiny) is key for real change.

These days Campbell has left the world of Biglaw behind. She’s building her own firmand is excited to represent clients in a variety of matters. One of the most interesting representations she has is working with the legal defense fund for Time’s Up!, and she continues to be a passionate advocate for gender equality in the workplace. This seems like the perfect next chapter for an equal pay pioneer.

Kathryn Rubino
Above The Law

Hare Wynn’s Ashley Peinhardt Nominated as 2018 Ones to Watch: Top Influencers Under 40 by Birmingham Magazine

Birmingham Magazine is a popular publication that focuses on events and noteworthy people in and around Birmingham, Ala. Each year, the publication asks readers to nominate the Magic City’s most influential professionals in a variety of industries.

Hare Wynn is honored to announce attorney Ashley Peinhardt was nominated and ultimately selected to the 2018 Ones to Watch: Top Influencers Under 40 list by Birmingham Magazine. This particular title is granted to the “best and brightest young professionals” in the city. Peinhardt will be featured in the magazine’s special “Young Professional” July issue.

After earning her J.D. in 2010 from the Cumberland School of Law, Ashley began focusing her professional practice at Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, LLP. She has rapidly earned herself a reputation among clients and her peers in the legal industry for her ability to successfully manage complex litigation cases, class actions, and catastrophic injury claims. The first jury trial she handled for a plaintiff ended in a $15 million verdict, which was affirmed by The Alabama Supreme Court and marked the largest damages judgement in the state in the last 20 years.