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Law Firms Squabble Over Vioxx Class Action

MINEOLA, N.Y. (CN) - Trial counsel in a Vioxx case tried to swipe the lead firm's clients, left its name off nine of the 26 complaints, and refused to reimburse the firm for more than $80,600 in litigation costs, the Yankowitz Law Firm claims in Nassau County Supreme Court.

The New York-based Yankowitz firm hired Stephen Sheller of Sheller, Ludwig & Badey P.C. and Sheller P.C. to help litigate its personal injury claims against Merck & Co. in New Jersey.

The Pennsylvania-based defendants said they were licensed to practice in New Jersey and had "extensive experience" with mass toxic tort cases.

Yankowitz had been hired to represent 303 potential plaintiffs - a number that dropped to 26 after the firm spent $80,684 on medical records, client sign-ups and initial investigations. The 26 viable actions were consolidated in the New Jersey Superior Court.

According to Yankowitz, "all aspects of the litigation, without exception" were to reflect Yankowitz as attorney of record and the defendants as trial counsel.

But the defendants allegedly broke the agreement by contacting Yankowitz's clients directly, persuading some of them to hire the defendants, omitting Yankowitz's name on nine of the claims and failing to properly identify themselves as the trial counsel on all 26 claims, and refusing to disburse the settlement money.

Yankowitz demands reimbursement for its out-of-pocket expenses, plus $5 million in punitive damages and $1 million in attorney fees. It is representing itself.

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