Headshot of attorney George IndestBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On November 29, 2016, Dr. William LaCorte, M.D., a whistleblowing physician in Metairie, Louisiana, helped win a $785 million False Claims Act settlement with Pfizer, Inc., one of the World’s largest pharmaceutical companies.  Dr. LaCorte agreed with his former lawyers on a split of attorney’s fees, which resolves one of the several disputes about paying multiple attorneys.

An Agreement Was Reached.

U.S. District Senior Judge Douglas P. Woodlock signed off on the agreement between whistle blower Dr. LaCorte and the doctor’s attorneys at Boone & Stone and Vezina & Gattuso LLC, on November 29, 2016. This gives Dr. LaCorte 62 percent of the relator’s share and 38 percent to three law firms.

Lawsuit Was First Filed In 2002.

This lawsuit first started back in 2002 when whistle blower Dr. LaCorte filed a lawsuit against Wyeth, Inc. Wyeth had received millions of dollars from filing false-claims lawsuits against multiple health care companies in July 2014, or so it was alleged.

The lawsuit was first filed in 2002, before Pfizer had purchased Wyeth.  The case was consolidated with a lawsuit from another whistle blower, Lauren Kieff. The U.S. Department of Justice intervened in 2009. The dispute was recently settled in earlier 2016 without an admission of wrongdoing hy the pharmaceutical companies.

The DOJ said that the LaCorte and Kieff case focused on discounts that Wyeth offered to hospitals that purchased oral and intravenous versions of Protonix. Wyeth did not offer that same discounts to Medicaid, which violated the program’s “best price” provision requiring all suppliers to give the Medicaid Program the best price it gives to anyone else.

Dr. LaCorte, the qui tam plaintiff or “relator,” had alleged in his earlier lawsuit that Pfizer’s unit Wyeth, Inc., had overbilled Medicaid for Protonix, a heartburn medication.  Dr. LaCorte was offered a $64 million relator’s share, and the states offered him a $34 million relator’s share.

Boone & Stone and Vezina & Gattuso were looking to receive approximately 40 percent of the award, which is fairly standard in qui tam cases. They also wanted the award to be split equally between the two firms, as well as with the Sakla Law Firm.

Still Problems After The Settlement.

Even though a settlement was reached, it does not solve all of the disputes about the ten of millions of dollars that the attorneys will share as part of their contingency fee.  The Sakla Law Firm is currently disputing with Boone & Stone and Vezina & Gattuso about their own subdivision of the award. The dispute continues to play out in federal court.

The Sakla Firm, which routinely handles FCA cases argued in a different lawsuit that Boone & Stone and Vezina & Gattuso did not deserve any attorney’s fees because they did not do any of the “important” work. The Sakla Law Firm claims that it did 95 percent of the work in this case.

Disputes Over Legal Fees.

Dr. LaCorte has a separate dispute with Wyeth, Inc., about legal fees which he claims the company owes him from the FCA suit.  According to Dr. LaCorte, Wyeth owes him $7.7 million in legal fees, in addition to $300,000 in costs.  Judge Woodlock apparently indicated that the parties should mediate their dispute.

A spokeswoman for Pfizer, Neha Wadhwa, stated in an e-mail dated November 29, 2016, “Given the limited role relator LaCorte and his counsel played in bringing about the ultimate settlement in this mater, and the deficient records supporting the latter’s fee request, as Pfizer indicated in its court papers, Pfizer believes his request is excessive and should be reduced.”

In motion papers in June 2016, Dr. LaCorte’s attorneys had said that $7.7 million was a reasonable amount under the law for a complex contingency case that required a vast amount of expenses.

Attorney’s Fees Reasonable or Not?

Knowing what goes into a major qui tam case, given the extremely large recovery for the government, it seems that $7.7 million is imminently reasonable.  This case extended over a 14 year period and.  I’m sure, the attorneys and their staffs did a tremendous amount of work on it.  In fact, I would query whether or not a Lode Star multiplier might be in order given the recovery made.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys.

Attorneys with The Health Law Firm represent physicians, nurses and other health professionals who desire to file a False Claims Act (whistle blower or qui tam) case.  This case just shows that even physicians can and should bring such claims and be rewarded for their whistle blowing activities.  However, the attorneys of The Health Law Firm also defend physicians, medical groups and health facilities who have been sued in False Claims Act (whistle blower or qui tam) cases or have had administrative or civil complaints filed against them to recover civil monetary penalties.  We have developed relationships with recognized experts in health care accounting, health care financing, utilization review, medical review, filling, coding, and other services that assist us in such matters. We have represented doctors, nurses and others as relators in bringing qui tam or whistle blower cases, as well.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Elfin, Dana. “Wyeth to Pay $785M to End Medicaid False Claims Case.” Bloomberg BNA. (February 7, 2016). Web.

Loftus, Peter. “Pfizer to Pay $785 Million to Settle Medicaid Claims.” The Wall Street Journal (February 16, 2016). Web.

Amaral, Brain. “Whistleblower In $785M Pfizer FCA Deal Agrees To Fees Split.” Law360. (November 29, 2016).Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

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