Michael L. Williams has his hands full: His cases often involve hundreds or thousands of injured people.
His specialty is pharmaceutical mass torts. This year, Williams, 60, is handling 5,000 petitions in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims for compensation to children he says developed neurodevelopment disorders related to mercury in vaccines.
Williams travels each month from Portland to Little Rock, Ark., where a judge holds a conference to address getting 8,000 federal breast cancer personal injury cases ready for trial.
“This is by far the largest mass tort I have ever worked on,” Williams says.
After a federal study reported in 2002 that hormone use by menopausal women appeared to increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, as well as breast cancer, millions stopped taking hormones. Almost immediately, according to a study published this year in The New England Journal of Medicine, breast-cancer rates dropped dramatically.
Williams’ first case practicing law involved the Dalkon Shield, a contraceptive device that caused injuries and infertility in many women. “I ended up with hundreds of cases,” he says. Williams, with Williams Love O’Leary & Powers, also tried one of the first silicone breast-implant cases, eventually representing more than 800 women.
He also filed the first fen-phen diet pill case, representing more than 200 clients injured by fen-phen in Oregon and Washington, and worked with attorneys in other states to represent more than 2,000 clients. But the two cases that gave him the most pride were class-action suits he settled last year against nonprofit Providence and Legacy hospitals in Oregon and Washington.
The suits were “on behalf of all the uninsured people who were being charged far higher prices for medical care than the insured were,” he says. “These were the only such class actions like this that were successful; the hospitals won virtually everywhere else we know this [issue] was raised.” The Oregon hospitals involved must now offer some reimbursements and discounts.