The Daily Journal recognized Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman attorney R. Brent Wisner as one of the Top Plaintiff Lawyers for 2019. The renowned legal publication recognized 30 of the top lawyers in California who brought significant cases in several key areas of practice, including personal injury and product defect.
Brent was recognized for his role as co-lead trial counsel in two of the first three Monsanto Roundup lawsuits to proceed to trial. In May, during closing arguments in the case of Pilliod et al. v. Monsanto Company, Brent told the jury that this was a moment in which they had the power to change Monsanto’s conduct; that they could be a part of history.
“This, frankly, is [Monsanto’s] day of reckoning,” Wisner said.
On May 13, 2019, the jury returned a verdict of $2.055 billion in favor of plaintiffs Alva and Alberta Pilliod of Livermore, California, the largest personal injury award so far this year. The verdict found that exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup weed killer caused the couple’s cancer and that Monsanto failed to warn consumers of this severe health hazard. Importantly, the jury also found that Monsanto acted with malice, oppression or fraud and should be punished for its conduct.
The Pilliod verdict came just nine months after the jury in the first Monsanto trial awarded plaintiff Dewayne “Lee” Johnson $289.2 million, finding that Roundup exposure caused Mr. Johnson’s terminal non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
During both cases, Brent delivered the opening and closing arguments, presented scientific evidence and cross-examined many of Monsanto’s experts. In addition to these cases, Brent also served on the trial team in Hardeman v. Monsanto Company, which resulted in an $80 million jury verdict. While he was not co-lead in the Hardeman case, Brent did present one of the key fact witnesses for the plaintiff, Dr. Christopher Portier, and cross-examined many of Monsanto’s corporate witnesses.
Since Bayer acquired Monsanto in 2018, its stock price has fallen precipitously, largely due to the major legal victories in the first three Roundup trials. After the verdict in the Johnson case, Monsanto fought to remove Wisner from the leadership in the federal multidistrict litigation (MDL). Monsanto did the same prior to the Pilliod trial.
“It seems to be a common refrain from Monsanto that in addition to litigating the case, they come after me personally and repeatedly,” Wisner told the Daily Journal. “If I were to let that get to me, it would defeat what we’re trying to do.”
That, according to Wisner, is not going to happen. With more than 13,400 cases still pending in courts throughout the country, Wisner says he will continue the fight to hold Monsanto accountable.
Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman Attorney Brent Wisner Recognized for Work in Medicare Secondary Payer Cases
In addition to recognizing his work handling Roundup lawsuits, the Daily Journal also noted Brent’s work in the Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) litigation. MSP cases involve a consortium of private Medicare providers (Medicare Advantage Organizations, or MAOs) who sue auto insurance companies for refusing to pay for medical expenses.
Here is an example of how these cases work: A Medicare beneficiary suffers medical injuries in an auto accident. Typically, the beneficiary submits their Medicare insurance card to the medical provider. That bill is then submitted to Medicare and either the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services or an MAO pays the bill. However, many Medicare beneficiaries are also covered by a no-fault auto insurance policy issued by an insurance company that obligates the insurer to pay for medical expenses, regardless of fault, up to a policy limit.
Medicare and MAOs are supposed to function as the secondary payer when a primary payer is responsible for covering the costs of health care. In practical terms, this means that if there is another insurance policy or contractual agreement covering a medical expense (such as a separate auto insurance policy), the other source of payment is considered the primary plan and must pay first before Medicare.
But according to Wisner, it “never happens this way.” Progress is being made, however; meaningful case law has been created regarding whether or not private insurers can bring lawsuits against auto insurance companies like Mercury Insurance, Farmer’s Insurance and others.
“It’s wreaking a lot of havoc in the Medicare space because auto insurers are starting to realize they have massive exposure since they haven’t been checking with private Medicare providers,” Wisner says.