Sheila L. Birnbaum

Birnbaum, Sheila

Sheila L. Birnbaum


New York | Three Bryant Park, 1095 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, United States of America 10036-6797
+1 212 698 3625 | +1 212 698 3599


Sheila L. Birnbaum is co-chair of Dechert’s product liability and mass torts practice and focuses on complex product liability, mass torts and insurance litigation. She is one of the country’s preeminent product liability defense lawyers, having served as national counsel or lead defense counsel for numerous Fortune 500 companies in some of the largest and most complex tort cases in the United States. She has also argued many influential appeals in appellate courts across the United States, including the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Ms. Birnbaum is national co-counsel for Purdue Pharma in over 1,000 federal and state lawsuits brought by state attorneys general, cities, municipalities, hospitals, third-party payers and others arising out of the marketing of opioid medications. She was co-lead counsel for Pfizer in over 600 birth defects cases in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) pending in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleging that the use of Zoloft during pregnancy caused birth defects. The team won a key Daubert ruling striking Plaintiffs’ experts and dismissing the cases on summary judgment, which was affirmed by the Third Circuit. She also served as co-national counsel for Pfizer in defending claims by thousands of Plaintiffs alleging Pfizer’s statin medication, Lipitor, caused them to develop type 2 diabetes. Thousands of cases were dismissed on summary judgment, after the MDL judge in South Carolina struck Plaintiffs’ experts in a Daubert ruling that was affirmed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Ms. Birnbaum is also representing Saint Gobain Performance Plastics in medical monitoring class actions and personal injury cases arising out of ground water containing perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). She was a lead national counsel for Wyeth in their hormone therapy litigation in both federal and state court and led the company’s strategy in negotiating thousands of settlements to end the litigation.

Ms. Birnbaum has been counsel for Dow Corning in breast implant litigation, Forest Laboratories in multiple state cases involving the anti-depressant medication Celexa, and Coloplast Corp in cases involving vaginal mesh. She also represented the NFL in negotiating and obtaining court approval for the settlement of one of the largest personal injury class actions.

Ms. Birnbaum has won three cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, including State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Campbell where the Supreme Court reversed a US$145 million punitive damages award against the company as unconstitutionally excessive. She won a unanimous victory in the U.S. Supreme Court in Warger v. Shauers. The case resolved a long-standing circuit split regarding the application of Federal Rules of Evidence 606(b), which generally prohibits testimony of jurors about statements made during deliberations when the testimony is offered in an inquiry into the validity of a verdict. She also successfully argued Buckley v. Metro North, a landmark case involving medical monitoring and risk of injury. 

As the court-appointed mediator in federal court, Ms. Birnbaum mediated a US$500 million settlement for 92 families of victims of the 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attack. In 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed her to serve as special master of the reactivated September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. She distributed nearly US$2 billion to claimants over the five years she oversaw the fund.  

In addition to her legal achievements, Ms. Birnbaum has led an active career as an academic, becoming the first tenured woman professor of law at Fordham University Law School, and was a professor of law and associate dean at New York University School of Law.  

Ms. Birnbaum has been recognized by many organizations as an outstanding lawyer. She has been named by Fortune as one of the 50 most powerful women in American business, Chambers USA as a “star individual” in the area of product liability, and Crain’s New York Business as one of the 25 most influential women in New York business. She is consistently ranked as a leading lawyer by many legal publications. The National Law Journal has recognized her multiple times as one of the “100 most outstanding members of the legal profession,” in addition to being profiled as one of three most outstanding lawyers of the year. In 2010, Ms. Birnbaum was named one of the “10 Most Admired Product Liability Attorneys” of the year by Law360 and was chosen as the leading product liability lawyer in the world by Who’s Who Legal in its product liability defense lawyers category each year since its inception in 2005. Chambers USA describes her as the “queen of mass torts” and “a powerhouse and a go to lawyer.” In 2020, Ms. Birnbaum was selected as one of Law360's MVPs of the Year in the Product Liability category. Ms. Birnbaum is a member of Dechert's nationally recognized team of product liability and mass tort lawyers, ranked Band 1 for Nationwide Product Liability & Mass Torts by Chambers USA, named in 2018 and 2019 as Practice Group of the Year for Product Liability by Law360, and Litigation Department of the Year for Product Liability by New York Law Journal in 2019 and 2020.

She has received numerous other honors, including the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award from the American Bar Association, the John L. McCloy Memorial Award from the Fund for Modern Courts and the Law and Society Award from the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. She is also the recipient of the New York University Law Alumni Award for outstanding achievement in the legal profession, the George A. Katz Torch of Learning Award and the Milton S. Gould Award for Outstanding Appellate Advocacy. Ms. Birnbaum was honored with the Louis D. Brandeis Award by the American Jewish Congress and an award from Touro Law School for achieving the highest standards of professional excellence. She is a member of the Hunter College Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Benchmark Litigation Annual Awards and the New York Law Journal.

Prior to joining Dechert, Ms. Birnbaum was co-chair of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan’s global product liability and mass torts practice and chair of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom’s product liability group.

  • State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company in historic victory when the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a US$145 million punitive damages award against the company as unconstitutionally excessive.
  • Dow Corning Corporation in their breast implant litigation.
  • Aventis Crop Science in several class actions and multidistrict litigation arising out of biogenetic corn. 
  • Thompson-Delaco in litigation concerning its over-the-counter drug Dexatrim, which contains “PPA.”
  • Numerous pharmaceutical companies in recovering substantial sums of money, including Pharmacia (Celebrex, Bextra), Wyeth (Hormone Therapy Litigation) and Pfizer (Hormone Therapy Litigation, Shiley Heart Valve) from insurance carriers in London arbitrations. 
  • Fortune 500 clients in state and federal courts involving multiple products and substances, including DES, PPA, asbestos, talc, DDT, PCBs, dioxin, PFOA and environmental claims and clean-up costs arising from Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.
  • Metro North in the landmark case Buckley v. Metro North involving medical monitoring before the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • An insurer in the New York Court of Appeals involving whether a punitive damage verdict awarded in another state was insurable under New York law.
  • Chrysler Corporation before the Florida Supreme Court in a case involving the standard of proof necessary to establish liability for punitive damages.
  • FMC Corporation in an appeal in New York that resulted in a reversal and new trial of a US$3 million punitive damage award arising out of a construction accident.

Includes matters handled at Dechert or prior to joining the firm.

  • Hunter College, B.A., 1960, cum laude
  • Hunter College, M.A., 1962
  • New York University School of Law, LL.B., 1965
  • Hunter College, LL.D., 2009, Honorary Doctorate of Laws
  • New York
  • Supreme Court of the United States
  • United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
  • United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York
  • United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
  • Member of Council (1989-present), American Law Institute
  • Member, Advisory Committee to the Restatement of the Law of Product Liability, Complex Litigation and Insurance Law
  • First President and Founding Member, Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert
Speaking Engagements
  • First Annual Mass-Tort MDL Flash Points — The George Washington University Law School, Washinton, DC (April 29 -30, 2021)
  • The Rise of Women to Leadership in Class Actions —  Angeion Group, Webinar (September 1, 2020)
  • Directors' Institute on Corporate Governance —  PLI , New York, NY (November 29, 2018)