Three Shepard O’Donnell Attorneys Recognized in the 2023 Edition of Massachusetts Super Lawyers

Shepard O’Donnell, one of the top asbestos personal injury law firms in Massachusetts for 25 years, announces that three of its attorneys were selected for inclusion in the 2023 edition of Massachusetts Super Lawyers, with two included on the Super Lawyers list and one on the Rising Stars list.

Founder Michael Shepard and Co-Managing Partner Erika O’Donnell were recognized on the 2023 Massachusetts Super Lawyers list in the Personal Injury – Products: Plaintiff practice area. 

Partner Michael McCann was recognized on the 2023 Massachusetts Rising Stars list in the personal Injury – Products: Plaintiff practice area. The Rising Star designation recognizes lawyers under the age of 40 years old or those in practice for less than ten years. Each year, no more than 2.5% of lawyers in each state are selected for inclusion on the Rising Star list. 

Super Lawyers is a research-driven, peer-influenced rating service for lawyers who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The mission of Super Lawyers is to bring visibility to attorneys who exhibit excellence in practice. The selection process, as detailed on the Super Lawyers website, is multi-phased and includes independent research, peer nominations and evaluations that identify a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.

Plaintiffs Liaison Counsel

What is it and why does it matter?

The roles of Plaintiffs’ Liaison Counsel and Defendants’ Liaison Counsel have existed in the Massachusetts State Court Asbestos Litigation Docket for over 30 years. The Plaintiffs’ Liaison Counsel, sometimes called Lead Plaintiffs’ Counsel or Lead Counsel, helps determine what cases get trial dates, ensures the Judge has everything needed to get cases through the system, and liaises with defense counsel.

Roles and responsibilities

The attorneys appointed to serve as Plaintiffs’ Liaison Counsel by the Court are responsible for working with the Court and the Special Master on global docket management issues, including establishing and implementing pre-trial orders, setting cases on yearly trial lists, communicating the Court’s directions to the many litigants on the Plaintiff and Defense side, and managing the needs, expectations, and complaints of the lawyers who practice in the Asbestos Docket. In short, Plaintiffs’ Liaison Counsel is responsible—especially post-covid—for managing the backlog of cases and ensuring that things run smoothly.

Why it’s important

The Plaintiffs’ Liaison Counsel is crucial to the management of the Massachusetts Asbestos Litigation docket and is a central player in the organization and timeliness of the docket. They communicate on behalf of plaintiffs and coordinate all necessary discovery requests, motions, and subpoenas on a case. In a case such as a class action, this plays an important role in keeping the Plaintiffs and appropriate parties organized and on schedule. The Plaintiffs’ Liaison Counsel also manages the complexity of collaborating with the Defendants’ Liaison Counsel and works to find common ground to keep the docket on track.

How Plaintiffs’ Liaison Counsel is selected

The Plaintiffs’ Liaison Counsel can be court-appointed or selected by the plaintiffs. In many cases, each court or docket has appointed a Lead Counsel who should be available in the event of a case where they are needed. Typically, the attorney appointed is committed to their cases and the local and national court systems.

Benefits to our clients

Shepard O’Donnell team members have held the role of Plaintiffs’ Liaison Counsel for the Massachusetts Asbestos Litigation docket since 2017, positioning the firm as a leader in asbestos litigation in Massachusetts. Knowing that someone on your side will be there to represent the case within the court system should serve as peace-of-mind.

Mike Shepard – 2017-2022
Erika O’Donnell – 2022-present

Michael Shepard Quoted in Law360 article on Asbestos Claims

Michael Shepard’s insights were featured in Law 360’s article, Mass. Lawmakers Weigh Ending Asbestos Claims Time Limit.”

“The Massachusetts Legislature is eyeing a sweeping change to the state’s construction tort statute of repose by eliminating an ironclad six-year limit on certain construction-related asbestos claims, something proponents say would fix a “draconian” interpretation of the law that leaves many families without legal options.”

Michael Shepard Law 360 , “The statute of repose was never designed to insulate companies that knowingly and intentionally used a toxic product … knowing that product won’t cause an injury to people until after the statute of repose has expired,” said Mike Shepard of Shepard O’Donnell, whose firm represented the Oliver estate before the SJC in a suit against General Electric and Metropolitan Life Insurance.

“A company like GE could install asbestos products today and be fully free, because no one will get an injury within the statute of repose time frame. It takes decades for your injury to manifest,” Shepard added. “We don’t see any downside to changing this law.”

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“Escaping Liability: Texas Two-Step Under Scrutiny” - Michael Shepard Quoted in Article

Michael Shepard’s insights were featured in the South Carolina Lawyers Weekly article, “Escaping Liability: Texas Two-Step Under Scrutiny.”

Shepard told Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly that while the Texas two-step affects only asbestos and talc victims today, it could one day affect any number of products — pharmaceuticals and vehicles, for instance — on the market that hurt people. 

“You’re essentially removing one of the great safeguards that we have in this country from corporate negligence or malfeasance, and that is the right to a jury trial, the right to hold that company accountable,” Shepard said. 

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Michael Shepard Interviewed on the Texas Two Step and the Georgia-Pacific Case

Michael Shepard was quoted in the article, “20 State AGs Ask Fourth Circuit to Kill Jones Day’s Texas Two-Step Tactic in Georgia-Pacific Case.”

“If the full panel of the Court of Appeals says the preliminary injunction can’t extend to the parent company—the good
company—it would essentially do away with the Texas Two-Step,” said Michael Shepard, a partner at Shepard
O’Donnell and a member of the asbestos claimants committee in the Georgia-Pacific case.

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Michael Shepard quoted in Bloomberg article, “J&J Jury’s Cancer Verdict Ramps Up Pressure on Bankruptcy Vote,”

Recently, Michael Shepard’s insights were featured in the Bloomberg Law article, “J&J Jury’s Cancer Verdict Ramps Up Pressure on Bankruptcy Vote.”

Claimants could see the verdict as a reason to try their own claims in front of a jury, Michael Shepard, a mesothelioma attorney at Shepard O’Donnell PC, said. Claimants in J&J and other asbestos bankruptcies might try to obtain the same relief from bankruptcy that allowed Valadez to get a jury trial, he said.

That would be a thorny issue for judges, who would be in a position to pick winners and losers, Shepard said. “Which ones do you choose?” he asked.

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Michael Shepard’s insights were featured in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly article, “Boston attorney among those hoping to see ‘Texas Two-Step’ waltz off into sunset.”

Recently, Michael Shepard’s insights were featured in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly article, “Boston attorney among those hoping to see ‘Texas Two-Step’ waltz off into sunset.”

“Right now, it’s just asbestos and talc victims,” Shepard says. “But tomorrow, it’s going to be pharmaceutical [companies]. It could be automakers. It could be any number of products that are on the market that hurt people. You’re essentially removing one of the great safeguards that we have in this country from corporate negligence or malfeasance, and that is the right to a jury trial, the right to hold that company accountable.”

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Shepard Law Announces New Firm Leadership and Changes Name to Shepard O’Donnell

Shepard Law Announces New Firm Leadership and Changes Name to Shepard O’Donnell

Shepard Law, one of the top asbestos personal injury law firms in Massachusetts for 25 years, announces that longtime firm attorney, Erika O’Donnell, was appointed co-managing partner to run the firm alongside founder, Michael Shepard. In conjunction with the leadership change, the firm also rebranded to Shepard O’Donnell. 

O’Donnell has been a key member of the Shepard Law team since 2005, when she joined the firm as an associate. Over nearly two decades, she has achieved numerous multi-million-dollar settlements and verdicts in cases involving mesothelioma, lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases, smoking-related cancers and pharmaceutical drugs and devices. Additionally, she is a role model and mentor to other attorneys and paralegals at the firm. In recognition of her many contributions, O’Donnell was elevated to equity partner in 2019. 

“Erika has worked beside me for many years, helping to build a talented, compassionate legal team,” said Shepard. “She is a fearless advocate for our clients and is a tireless fighter for them and their families. Erika is everything you want a personal injury lawyer to be, and I’m thrilled to have her lead the firm with me.”

O’Donnell’s roots growing up in a blue-collar family from Worcester, Massachusetts steered her toward a career helping sick and injured workers get the compensation they deserve for their illnesses. The opening of the firm’s second office in Worcester in 2017 allowed O’Donnell to return to her hometown and help other local families in that community. She is active in the Worcester Bar Association and is a founding member of a prestigious national group of female toxic-tort litigators. O’Donnell is highly respected by both colleagues and adversaries in the litigation field. 

“As the firm celebrates its 25th anniversary, it is an honor to take on this expanded role,” said O’Donnell. “I’ve always believed it is important to hold large corporations and businesses accountable for their wrong-doings. And, with the personal injury legal sector in Massachusetts becoming more crowded with so-called ‘national firms’ looking to take mesothelioma cases, it’s equally important for clients to understand that having responsive, compassionate and sincere counsel that understands the local court system and who lives and works in the same state is crucial to success. At Shepard O’Donnell, we treat our clients the way we would want to be treated if we were in their shoes.”

Shepard Law made headline news in October 2018 with its victory in the Summerlin v. Philip Morris USA, et al. case (No. 1581CV05255, Mass. Super., Suffolk Co.)—a notable case that brought co-defendants from an asbestos product company and a cigarette manufacturer to trial before a jury. After a five-week trial before the Suffolk Superior Court in Boston, Shepard Law secured a $43 million verdict on behalf of their client. O’Donnell was involved in representing the case on behalf of the Summerlin family.

In addition to the Summerlin case, O’Donnell was involved with an asbestos mesothelioma case involving a chemical engineer who was exposed to asbestos at a large plant in Springfield, Massachusetts. That case was notable in that she was able to successfully identify and bring suit against many defendants that had never been sued before in Massachusetts for their asbestos-containing products. In 2018, O’Donnell also successfully litigated a case involving a client who worked spraying asbestos insulation in buildings as a teenager, and later developed mesothelioma as an adult in his 60s.

O’Donnell is a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Worcester Bar Association, the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys, and the American Association for Justice. She has been recognized by Massachusetts Super Lawyers since 2012.

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Truth vs. Hope: What to Tell Asbestos Victims

Written by: Michael Shepard

As someone who has represented victims of mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis over the past two decades, I have witnessed hundreds of clients succumb to terrible diseases. Often times, when meeting a new client, usually in their home, I am asked questions about the disease they have been diagnosed with. Most people pay no attention to the word mesothelioma, but when a doctor tells you that you have it, you want to learn everything you can about it. Given my experience with mesothelioma victims, my clients naturally want to know how their situation compares to others with that disease. The answer is not an easy one.

When someone is diagnosed with mesothelioma, one of their first questions inevitably involves whether they can be cured. The next question is usually how long they have to live. Mesothelioma is a terminal disease, meaning that there is no known cure and the cancer will likely progress to the point where it eventually takes your life. Between those dates is a span of time that every patient wants to know, but no one can accurately predict. While the average survival of someone diagnosed with mesothelioma is six to eighteen months, it can vary greatly depending on multiple factors. Despite looking for a pattern over the years, I still have no idea how long a mesothelioma victim might survive. I have seen clients who have died within three weeks, and clients who have lived more than five years. Age doesn’t seem to be a determining factor, although younger, otherwise healthy mesothelioma clients have as good a chance as anyone. Even so, I have seen victims as young as twenty-one years old succumb to this terrible cancer within a year from diagnosis. I have also seen victims ninety years and older live for three years.

Despite all the advances in medicine and chemotherapy in the past twenty years, science doesn’t seem to be any closer to determining why certain people get mesothelioma and others don’t, much less finding a cure for this disease. It is well established, and beyond debate by anyone other than a lawyer or expert representing asbestos defendants or interests, that mesothelioma is caused by exposure to all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile asbestos. What we don’t know is why two people, working side-by-side around asbestos for twenty years or more, can have such different reactions to asbestos exposure, where one develops mesothelioma while the other does not. When it comes to mesothelioma, there are more questions than there are answers.

This uncertainty is why it is so difficult to talk to new clients about their future. The client is desperate for information, for optimism, for hope. Depending on the bedside manner of the doctors involved, the client may not have been given any answers to those questions. Early in my career, I was frustrated that my clients were not given information about their survival prospects. I went so far as to seek out the advice of cancer doctors, including one who was also an ordained minister. What I came to learn is that doctors have to tread the same delicate path that I had been navigating. On the one hand, doctors feel they owe the patient the courtesy of explaining the disease and its prognosis in plain, frank terms so the patient and his family aren’t misled into thinking that things were going to work out fine in the end. On the other hand, the mind has tremendous control over the body’s ability to fight off disease. If you take away a person’s hope, their will to fight, you all but guarantee that they will not survive long. So how then, do you handle those questions?

I have chosen a middle ground. I ask my clients what their doctors have told them. I ask a lot of questions about their doctor’s visits, their discussions with the doctors, their discussions with their spouse and family members. Based on the answers I hear, I am usually able to determine how much information has been given to them. If they are well informed, and seem to be able to discuss their prognosis candidly, I am more open in the information I provide. If, however, it seems that they either haven’t been given very clear information, or that they aren’t accepting of the information they have been given, I am much more guarded with my comments. I don’t want to take away whatever optimism or hope is helping my client handle the awful struggle with cancer. Regardless of how much information I share, I always offer an empathetic ear and a solemn promise to do what I can to help. Most often, I find that my clients are happy to know that someone is looking out for their needs, and for the financial needs of their spouse moving forward. Ultimately, it is all I can do for them, and I take that responsibility very seriously.

I don’t know if my approach is right or wrong, but I suspect that it depends on the situation and it depends on the person. When faced with the sudden and unexpected diagnosis of mesothelioma, would you want the truth, or would you prefer hope?

The Truth Behind Lawyer Television Advertising & Mesothelioma

Written by: Shepard Law Firm Staff

It seems you can’t turn on the television in the afternoon or evening these days without seeing an ad like this one targeting the victims of mesothelioma:

Mesothelioma Ad

Ads like this also convey the idea that there are hundreds, even thousands of law firms across the country representing mesothelioma victims. Yet, both of those assumptions are false.

So why do we continue to see so many misleading commercials?
Even savvy television viewers may be surprised to learn how much time, money and actual scientific research goes into developing these seemingly unpolished commercials. The reasons are as unsettling as the ads themselves. Why? Because of referral fees. Most of those advertisers are law firms or advertising groups that are simply going to refer your case to a lawyer who actually practices mesothelioma litigation, in exchange for a percentage of the fee that the second lawyer earns on the case. Good for the advertising law firm’s bottom line, but not so much for the victims and their families. The truth is, mesothelioma cases are highly specialized and require attorneys with very specific legal experience and access to significant medical and scientific resources.

Two secrets that these commercials don’t want you to know.
Secret #1: I’m not a lawyer, I just play one on T.V.
Did you know that the lawyer or law firm that is doing the advertising may not actually practice the type of litigation that is being advertised? I see this all the time in the context of mesothelioma, because in reality there are a limited number of law firms around the country that actually represent people in mesothelioma litigation.

In the past twenty-plus years of representing mesothelioma victims, I have come to know every law firm in the country that does what we do. It is a very small group, partly due to the immense amount of information and expertise that is needed to successfully handle mesothelioma cases, and partly because there just aren’t that many new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed every year.

Secret #2: Just like with real estate it comes down to location, location, location.
Television and internet marketing are not limited in the geographic scope of the advertisement. The advertisers may be located anywhere, from Texas to California, Florida to New York. This begs the questions:

Do they know the rules of your state?
Do they know the court system in your state?
Do they know the job sites where you worked or the cities and towns in which you lived?
Of course they don’t. The advertiser will try to sound convincing when confronted with the question, “Are you going to be the one handling my case in court?” But in most instances, the advertising lawyer or group has never actually litigated a mesothelioma case, and wouldn’t know where to begin if they had to. They are going to have to find a lawyer in your state who can represent you, someone who knows the local area and the local court rules, someone who can locate documents and witnesses in your area to help build your case. But which local lawyer are they going to send the case to, is that lawyer right for you and will that lawyer do a good job? How much experience does that lawyer have with mesothelioma litigation? When you call a toll-free number from a television ad, you might be surprised to find out that the answers to these questions are not the right answers for you.

When I say that Shepard Law represents victims of mesothelioma, I mean that we actually file the lawsuit, do the discovery, take and defend depositions, make and defend motions, and appear in court. We are with you from day one through the end of the case. The vast majority of lawyers advertising as “mesothelioma lawyers” can’t say the same.

Calling the number on the television may seem simple and convenient, especially if you are already struggling with the very real emotional, financial and physical challenges that often accompany mesothelioma. But if you put in the time to find a lawyer in your area, you are more likely to end up with someone who is going to have a vested interest in you and your case, and will deliver the result you were looking for.

If you or a loved one has mesothelioma and would like to learn more about your rights please call us for free, confidential consultation at (617) 451-9191.