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Sarah Burns is a shareholder in the Complex Litigation Department at Simmons Hanly Conroy. She has substantial legal experience handling prescription opioid litigation, consumer safety cases, mass tort multidistrict litigations and other complex business torts. Over the past 14 years with the firm, she has secured billions of dollars in settlements on her clients’ behalf.
Sarah brings an in-depth understanding of the law and how it applies to her clients’ unique circumstances. Her clients are regular, everyday people, businesses or municipalities who’ve been harmed by larger, multinational corporations.
“I’m good at reading the terms of a legal agreement and translating what it means for our clients and the firm in language they can understand,” Sarah explained.
Around the firm, Sarah’s work has garnered her a reputation as equal parts secret weapon, role model and leader. Her greatest strength is as a utility player who can do it all.
At any given time, Sarah can have 1-on-1 meetings with county officials, take liability depositions, or work on settlement negotiations. She knows how to motivate a team of smart and savvy lawyers to hit their trial deadlines.
“I make sure all the details line up, that my client is happy, that the facts match the law, and that everything happens the way it’s supposed to,” Sarah said.
Her cases regularly take on some of the largest companies in the world. Not only is Sarah adept at overcoming the stall tactics big defense law firms deploy against smaller plaintiffs, she leverages the firm’s resources to put her clients on an equal playing field. Her responsibilities include pre-filing investigations, transitioning those investigations into viable cases, managing those cases through the discovery process, into preparing cases for trial, trial, and the appeal process.
Sarah’s current caseload includes representing county and municipal governments against the pharmaceutical companies responsible for the aggressive and fraudulent marketing of prescription opioid painkillers that led to the opioid epidemic. Her opioid litigation work is helping to right a significant nationwide wrong and will make a direct difference in the lives of thousands.
Sarah serves as a senior member of the Opioid Litigation Team, led by Shareholder Jayne Conroy. The team includes attorneys, paralegals and staff dedicated to helping counties and municipal governments enforce their legal rights against pharmaceutical companies responsible for the opioid crisis.
Sarah serves as a key member on multiple teams litigating opioid cases at the state and federal levels. Her work has secured two plaintiffs’ verdicts and more than $27 billion in cumulative settlements for counties, states and tribal nations across the country.
The goal of this litigation is to hold the entire opioid industry — from manufacturers and distributors to the retail pharmacies — accountable for their role in perpetuating the opioid epidemic in our local communities.
Currently, she oversees casework for more than 280 cases filed on behalf of government entities in New York, Illinois, Missouri, Georgia, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio, California, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Nebraska, Indiana and North Carolina.
Most recently, Sarah served on the trial team that led the New York State consolidated opioid litigation on behalf of Suffolk County. This was the first-filed New York governmental opioid case in 2016 and among the first filed in the nation.
The first bellwether trial reached a finale in December 2021 with a plaintiffs’ verdict against opioid manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals, its subsidiaries and distributor Anda Manufacturing. The New York opioid trial involved 800 exhibits, over 9,000 filings and 7 months of trial, making it the longest trial in New York Supreme Court history.
In addition to the plaintiffs’ verdict, the trial secured more than $1.7 billion in settlements, including:
These settlements provided recoveries for Suffolk and Nassau counties, the State of New York and numerous other New York counties that Sarah represents.
In high-profile cases like this, it’s easy to give credit to the trial team — but these cases don’t get to trial without years of grueling work behind the scenes. From the very beginning, Sarah served as an invaluable part of the Suffolk County legal team, working up the plaintiffs’ case and keeping all parts moving in the years leading up to the trial itself.
Sarah handled a variety of duties integral to the success of the case — from the request for proposal stage and preparing the complaint to working 1-on-1 with the Chief Deputy County Attorney and with the special master on discovery, in addition to managing the countless other intricacies that need to align perfectly for the case to successfully make it to the jury.
In addition to her work on the New York State opioid litigation, Sarah also helps lead the firm’s cases involved in the National Prescription Opiate Multidistrict Litigation (MDL).
For the MDL, Sarah was on the Johnson & Johnson liability team early on. Her primary responsibilities included working up the case, going through discovery, taking depositions, developing liability themes, and working with scores of attorneys to coordinate messaging across firms.
Currently, Sarah runs the MDL’s Publix liability team that seeks to establish liability specifically for the grocery store chain’s pharmacy.
In July 2021, Sarah and the opioid litigation team helped reach a $26 billion settlement with the three big opioid distributors — McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation — and Johnson & Johnson as part of the federal opioid litigation.
As a key member of the legal team supporting the firm’s opioid cases, Sarah wrote the complaints, filed them and guided the litigation through the legal process, including settlement negotiations.
All 280 of the firm’s opioid clients elected to participate in the global settlement agreement. Sarah was part of the national team’s coordinated effort to secure a high level of participation in the settlement, communicating with clients and co-counsel across the country.
In addition to the New York State coordinated action, Sarah also oversees the firm’s state court-coordinated actions in Connecticut, Illinois and Pennsylvania. Each of these cases includes counties and cities and, in Pennsylvania, a union.
In addition to her continuing results in opioid mass tort litigation, Sarah’s legal track record includes other high-profile cases in product liability mass torts and class actions, including the Volkswagen “Clean Diesel” Multidistrict Litigation (MDL).
Shareholder Jayne Conroy served on leadership in the VW litigation, and Sarah was an integral member of her legal team. She handled the consumer protection cases the firm filed against Volkswagen, regarding the automaker’s highly publicized emission scandal. She also focused on the marketplace unfair competition claims brought by competing dealerships.
The VW litigation has secured nearly $16 billion in global settlements for vehicle owners, including many Missouri and Illinois residents, as well as competitor dealers impacted by VW’s emission scandal.
In August 2014, Sarah filed one of the first GMO corn lawsuits against Syngenta on behalf of an Illinois-based grain exporter, Trans Coastal Supply Company, Inc., which was forced to declare bankruptcy after it lost $41 million because its exports to China were contaminated with Agrisure Viptera corn seed.
After years of hard-fought legal work by Sarah and the mass tort team, a significant confidential settlement was recently reached on behalf of Trans Coastal on the eve of trial. Sarah worked the case through filing and was prepared to serve as second chair in the trial.
The lawsuit is part of the federal multidistrict litigation, Syngenta AG MIR 162 Corn Litigation MDL 2591, that farmers, exporters and other companies have filed against the international biotechnology seed company Syngenta for misleading them about the status of Viptera’s approval in China.
The Syngenta Corn MDL secured a monumental $1.5 billion global class action settlement on behalf of farmers, grain elevators and distributors who were injured by the premature launch of Syngenta Seed Corp.’s genetically modified corn seed Agrisure Viptera.
Sarah earned her Juris Doctor from the University of Tulsa College of Law, where she graduated with honors. She graduated from the University of Missouri, Columbia with a bachelor’s in biochemistry.
Sarah is licensed to practice in Missouri; the Eastern and Western Districts of Missouri; the U.S. Patent Bar; the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit; and the Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation.
In addition, she is admitted pro hac vice in courts around the country.
Sarah’s strong sense of justice extends far beyond the courtroom. When she sees an injustice, she is the type of person who takes action to right the wrongs she sees. It’s this quality that makes her such a strong legal advocate for her clients and a powerful resource for the firm.
In addition to her litigation work, Sarah has a track record of giving back to the St. Louis-area community through volunteer work. She often volunteers for SHC Employee Foundation events, such as the firm’s holiday adopt-a-family event.
Previously, Sarah served as the coordinator for the Alton Blessings in a Backpack program. She led the effort to bring the program to the Alton, Illinois school district, which resulted in 200 underprivileged children receiving free lunches during the weekends and holiday breaks for multiple years.
In her free time, Sarah loves to garden and spend time with her daughters and pets.