When two young and dynamic attorneys, both second-generation plaintiff’s lawyers, met in a courthouse hallway, it was the start of a merging of lives that would lead not only to marriage, but also to the formation of a formidable, national plaintiff’s litigation firm. Even early on, the pair—Marie Napoli and Paul Napoli—worked with future Partner Hunter Shkolnik, as co-counsel, recognizing his legal skills and acumen.
In the beginning, the firm worked to bring justice to their personal injury and other clients out of an office on Broadway in downtown New York. Over more than two decades the firm has grown exponentially and today it has two principal offices in New York—one in Midtown Manhattan and the other on Long Island. It also has 10 other locations throughout the country, including in the major metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, Miami and Washington D.C.
It was during this time of exceptional growth that Hunter Shkolnik officially joined the firm. Today he, Marie and Paul oversee, guide, develop and lead 15 partners, over 100 attorneys and 80+ legal staff at Napoli Shkolnik PLLC and its affiliated Puerto Rico law firm.
The firm’s teams have the skills and experience to handle a wide variety of mass torts, class actions and individual cases related to personal injury, environmental litigation, pharmaceutical litigation, the opioid crisis, medical malpractice, and civil rights violations. They advise and assist local and state governments in litigating cases against pharmaceutical, big oil and other companies whose negligent actions have devastated communities. They also represent clients in complex litigation cases, arbitration proceedings and mediations.
“We were successful at a young age because we were born and bred into the legal profession,” Marie Napoli says. “There was no learning curve for us. We were off and running.”
One thing that all our lawyers and staff at the firm constantly remind ourselves of is that our clients are usually plaintiffs because they have had something horrible happen to them in their lives.”
Shaping the Firm
An early case that exemplified the firm’s dedication to fighting for its vulnerable clients and cemented the firm as a powerhouse in the mass torts arena, was that of the notorious diet drug fen-phen. In that landmark case, the firm achieved a billion-dollar settlement for victims of the drug, which was believed to cause heart-valve and other problems.
“The fen-phen litigation really got us into difficult mass tort litigation,” Paul J. Napoli says. At the time it was not only legally challenging, but also hard to handle because of the size.”
The sheer number of clients involved in the case and located all over the country, resulted in the firm implementing improved computer technologies to update attorneys and clients on the status of cases. A nationwide database helps the firm maintain strong communication, so people involved in cases knows what is going on at any given time. Additionally, the firm’s marketing team sends out email blasts with litigation updates and holds community open houses to keep people who are experiencing some of the most difficult circumstances of their lives informed about what is being done in the fight to bring them justice.
Helping 9/11 Victims
Community communication was especially key in the wake of the horrific September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. The firm has handled multiple cases related to the attacks, winning compensation for first responders, bystanders and cleanup workers who have suffered from cancer, pulmonary problems, respiratory diseases and other debilitating illnesses caused by the toxic gases, poisonous dusts and debris the attack left.
“We took on these cases that at first blush seemed impossible,” Marie Napoli says. “In the 9/11 cases you had sick and injured firefighters and police officers who were losing their homes and dying. There was one firefighter client who was living in his garage and renting out his house because he could no longer work. No other firm would take these cases on because they didn’t have the ability or thought they were impossible. But with hard work you can make it possible.”
Make it possible they did. The firm’s landmark 9/11 settlements to help first responders and others who suffered illnesses or injuries because of the attacks and their residual impacts include the following settlements that were wins for the firm, but most importantly, for the victims:
$816.45 million settlement for injuries from toxic dust sustained by police officers, firefighters and construction workers at Ground Zero.
$24.5 million, $28 million and $47.5 million settlements for injuries to rescue and recovery workers from toxic dust at Ground Zero.
Led by Paul J. Napoli, the firm also avidly lobbied the U.S. Congress to pass the James Zadroga September 11th Health and Compensation Act of 2010. The law provides a fund for health monitoring and financial aid to 9/11 victims including survivors, first responders, volunteers and nearby residents and workers. It is named after a New York Police Department officer whose death from a respiratory illness was linked to his help in rescue and recovery operations following the attacks.
Additional High-Profile Cases
The firm is no stranger to pursuing and winning multi-million-dollar settlements for their clients. Several landmark awards in recent years include a defective drug case with a settlement amount of $650 million to resolve the claims of 4,000 Pradaxa users whom the drug injured. Another was a $100 million settlement for women harmed by the NuvaRing birth control device. Cases are currently ongoing related to the devastating water contamination issue in Flint, Michigan, and a large opioid case in Cleveland that is currently going through the deposition phase.
According to the firm’s dedicated founders, no case is too big for them to take on.
“We are also good partners in working with counsel in other areas in developing cases that they would like to bring, but are unable to do themselves,” Paul Napoli says. “We have the financial and technical resources to go toe-to-toe with the biggest firms.”
While the complexities of mass tort cases are different than smaller, individual cases because of the sheer number of people involved and logistical issues, the passion and expertise Napoli Shkolnik’s attorneys bring to their smaller cases is no different than in high-stakes mass tort and class action cases. While Napoli Shkolnik has a large-firm nationwide reach it recognizes that each and every client matters and still brings a small firm’s hands-on sensibility to cases. The attorneys and staff never forget who they are working for.
“One thing that all our lawyers and staff at the firm constantly remind ourselves of is that our clients are usually plaintiffs because they have had something horrible happen to them in their lives,” Marie Napoli says. “When you handle these cases on a regular basis, attorneys and judges can become callous, but we have to remember that for each individual client this may well be the one biggest thing that has happened to them in their lives. We must remain compassionate as if it is happening to us or our sister or other family member.”
Empathy for people and their problems is what the firm was founded on and that feeling and focus on personal attention is instilled in all the firm’s employees when working with clients. The reception desk fields hundreds of phone calls every day. Priority is placed on them to make sure that each and every call is answered and to make sure that the calls are directed to the right people. A variety of languages are spoken at the firm including Spanish, Russian, Mandarin and Korean in order to serve a widely diverse client base. The firm strongly believes in bringing in whatever resources are required to understand the unique needs of its clients in order to best represent them.
“To that end, we employ doctors and nurses so they can talk to them about medical status and what went on,” Paul Napoli says. “We have client liaisons on the ground who are dedicated to working with clients. We always work to try and ensure our clients are up-to-date and knowledgeable about their cases.”
A Partner’s Perspective
The law firm’s multiple departments are structured to enable attention and expertise is devoted to a wide range of legal issues. One of the Partners whose role has evolved as the firm has grown is Shayna E. Sacks. Ms. Sacks began as an associate focusing on pharmaceutical and product liability cases. Her tenure at the firm has included management roles in the Pharmaceutical Department as well as multiple federal court appointed leadership positions. In recognition of her legal skills and hard work, she was promoted to Partner in June 2016.
While she still oversees multiple litigations in the pharmaceutical department, she is now also actively involved in the nationwide opioid litigation. Ms. Sacks often travels across the country to meet with both prospective and current clients to explain the litigation process and the case’s current status. She is also frequently invited to speak at industry conferences to inform and educate the legal community on the developments and progress of this large, multi-state mass tort. “This litigation has been the most rewarding in my career. Fighting for our communities is an honor.”
Ms. Sacks recently created a new department at the firm focusing on food allergies. An interest in this area of law began at home. Her son is allergic to various foods including nuts and sesame and her husband is allergic to peanuts. Her experiences with her son have encouraged her to advocate for proper food handling and preparation in the food industry. She has worked within her son’s school to create a safer environment for both him and others but also to advocate for safer policies and procedures across the country. “They are a huge part of why I do what I do. I look at my own family and know that I would want a firm like mine to be on their side if it were ever necessary.”
Communicative, Open-Door Culture
The firm’s open-door culture encourages communication and career growth. A sensitivity to the firm’s changing priorities and how they may affect people’s jobs and lives is also of the utmost importance to the founding attorneys.
“With mass torts, the firm has to grow and then contract as we need staffing for different projects,” Marie Napoli says. “We are very sensitive to that.”
In spite of changing priorities, opportunities to develop and grow within the firm are very strong. Partner Chris LoPalo has been with the firm since the beginning, starting as an intern. He now manages the Pharmaceutical and World Trade Center departments.
Like LoPalo experienced as a young associate, new associates to the firm are provided many opportunities for learning and growth, including shadowing their more experienced attorney peers. The focus on growth serves to keep talented people at the firm, along with its nurturing and friendly culture.
Marketing Director Maria Hayashi points out that as an example, she is beginning her ninth year at the law firm. “There are many other people with longevity here,” she says. “We like to develop from within.”
“We partner with St. Johns and other law schools to take in new lawyers who are interested in the field and help develop them to practice,” Paul J. Napoli adds.
Giving Back to the Community
In addition to the firm’s empathy for its clients and its nurturing internal culture, great importance is placed on the needs of people within the community. Paul Napoli serves on the Board of the National September 11th Memorial Museum. Together the couple established the Marie and Paul Napoli Foundation in 2001, which supports a variety of charitable causes. Marie Napoli also served on the board of The Bone Marrow Foundation.
Napoli Shkolnik also support a wide range of other national and local charitable and community organizations, as does the entire legal team and staff. From sponsoring the St. John’s University President’s Dinner—where both of the Napoli’s graduated law school from—to holding annual food drives in every office to sending cards as part of the Holiday Mail for Heroes program to armed service members, veterans and their families, the importance of giving back is never overlooked.
“I think the firm is based on the core values to help others,” Marie says. “Paul and I were brought up in similar communities with similar values. Helping communities and others is a primary goal of ours.”
For the Future
What do the founders of Napoli Shkolnik envision for the future?
“We will keep leading the fight far into the future,” Marie Napoli says. “We will continue helping people who can’t help themselves. We find satisfaction in being their voice and being there for them. That is what our firm is truly about, and it extends far beyond local boundaries. The environmental cases, for example, are important to all communities throughout America. The way our country and its laws are based has unfortunately allowed contaminations to occur nationwide. We are the gatekeepers to prevent these, and other, harms.”