Chilton Davis Varner

Chilton Varner

has 30 years of courtroom experience as a trial lawyer defending corporations in product liability, business torts, contract and other commercial disputes. She is the senior partner in King & Spalding’s product liability practice that was selected by The American Lawyer in January 2012 as one of the top three product liability practices in the nation and by Chambers USA each year since 2005 as one of the best in the country. U.S. News and Best Lawyers ranked the practice as Tier 1 nationally in 2012. Based on interviews with peers and clients, Chambers USA for the past seven years has listed Ms. Varner as one of a small number of Tier One product liability lawyers in the country. In 2012, Benchmark honored Ms. Varner as Georgia’s Litigator of the Year in 2013 and 2014, and one of the top ten women litigators nationally. She was selected by Chambers as a national finalist for Woman Litigator of the Year in 2012. Law 360 recognized Ms. Varner in 2011-12, first, as one of ten “MVPs” in product liability, and second, as one of the top 15 women litigators in the country. U.S. News and Best Lawyers listed her as a “leading lawyer” in products liability and mass tort defense in 2012, as well as Lawyer of the Year for “Bet the Company” Litigation for 2013. The International Who’s Who in Product Liability has judged her as one of the most highly regarded product liability practitioners globally since 2006. LMG Life Sciences recognized her in 2012-14 as one of the most-sought-after litigators working in life sciences. In 2012, BTI Consulting Group recognized Ms. Varner for providing the most outstanding client service, based on a survey of corporate counsel at large and Fortune 1000 companies.

Ms. Varner has just finished her 2012-13 term as President of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

Ms. Varner was appointed by Chief Justice Rehnquist in 2004 and re-appointed by Chief Justice Roberts in 2007 to the Federal Civil Rules Advisory Committee, where she participated in the Committee’s drafting of amendments governing electronic discovery and changes to the Rules governing summary judgment and expert discovery.

Ms. Varner has served as trial and appellate counsel for a number of the country’s largest pharmaceutical, medical device and automotive manufacturers. She is experienced in mass tort litigation, class actions and MDL litigation, including the complex issues of discovery, attorney-client privilege and Daubert challenges to expert testimony that accompany such suits.

Examples of Ms. Varner’s Trial Practice.

In April, 2013, Ms. Varner won a unanimous jury verdict on behalf of Merck in the first bellwether case (selected by plaintiffs) to be tried in MDL litigation in New Jersey, in which plaintiffs allege Merck’s osteoporosis drug Fosamax causes atypical femur fractures. In an unusual turn, Ms. Varner then won the case a second time, on a legal motion based on federal preemption of failure-to-warn claims, that the Court had continued until after the trial record was complete. Ms. Varner serves as co-lead counsel for Merck in the MDL.

In September, 2011, Ms. Varner tried and won a bellwether case in an MDL litigation in the Southern District of New York in which plaintiffs allege Merck’s osteoporosis drug Fosamax causes osteonecrosis of the jaw. The case, one selected by the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee for trial, lasted four weeks and resulted in a finding of no defect and a unanimous verdict for Merck. In another bellwether trial in the same MDL in January, 2013, Ms. Varner obtained a split verdict and low damages. The second result is being appealed in the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Ms. Varner represents GlaxoSmithKline as national coordinating counsel and lead trial counsel in product liability litigation involving GSK’s antidepressant Paxil. In September-October 2009, she tried to verdict plaintiffs’ first choice of several hundred cases in the Pennsylvania Mass Tort Program that allege that ingestion of Paxil in the first trimester of pregnancy produces birth defects in the fetus. The jury in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas found for plaintiff 10-2, but awarded compensatory damages in an amount less than actual medical expenses. The jury rejected plaintiffs’ claim for punitive damages. Ms. Varner tried and won a second birth defect case in the same court in November 2010, when the court entered judgment at the close of plaintiffs’ proof. Ms. Varner has also been successful in defeating certification of both state and national classes of Paxil consumers on consumer fraud, medical monitoring and personal injury allegations. The MDL Court’s decisions, In Re Paxil Prods. Liab. Litig., 218 F.R.D. 242, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21195 and 212 F.R.D. 539, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1936, have been referred to as part of the “big four” pharmaceutical cases on denial of class certification in medical monitoring and consumer fraud cases. See In Re Prempro Prods. Liab. Lit., 2005 WL 2094974 (E.D. Ark., Aug. 30, 2005). In 2012, Benchmark selected the Paxil litigation as “Case of the Year” for Georgia practitioners.

In June, 2008, Ms. Varner represented GSK in one of the first three cases tried to a jury verdict in the nationwide Average Wholesale Price litigation, State of Alabama v. SmithKline Beecham, d/b/a GlaxoSmithKline, Civil Action No. CV-2005-219.68, and the first in which no punitive damages were awarded. The State, represented by one of Alabama’s leading contingency fee lawyers, sued virtually every pharmaceutical company, including GSK, alleging fraud in the reporting of prices for drugs covered under the Medicaid program. In 2009 the Supreme Court of Alabama rendered judgment in GSK’s favor on all counts in an opinion identified as the most important of 2009 by the Drug & Medical Device blog.

Ms. Varner currently serves as national coordinating co-counsel and lead trial counsel for Purdue Pharma in product liability litigation over Purdue’s pain medication OxyContin. More than 400 cases have been dismissed without payment, most with prejudice, several on the eve of trial. There have been 24 summary judgments in favor of Purdue and class certification has been denied 10 times.

For General Motors, Ms. Varner in one 2-1/2-year period obtained jury verdicts for the defense in four cases involving catastrophic injury or death and settled a fifth while the jury was deliberating.

Ms. Varner has been admitted pro hac vice in the courts of Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, New York, Missouri, California, Kentucky, Utah, West Virginia, Virginia, Illinois, Arkansas, Wyoming, Connecticut, Indiana, Ohio, Kansas, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Oregon.

Good to know

Areas of Practice 1) Appellate, 2) Constitutional and Administrative Law , 3) Contracts and Business Torts , 4) Energy Appellate , 5) Crisis Management , 6) Crisis Management: Congressional Investigations , 7) Congressional Investigations , 8) Class Action , 9) E-Discovery and 10) Energy Disputes
Law School J.D., with distinction, Emory University
Education A.B., with distinction, Smith College
Bar Member / Association State bar of Georgia
Most recent firm King & Spalding LLP
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