Bijan Esfandiari didn’t necessarily plan to go into medicine when he went into law – but he came by it honestly. His mother was a professor of infectious diseases and Esfandiari remembers vividly the impact that it had on him as a young person.

“Growing up I would occasionally accompany my mother to medical conferences and attend her classroom lectures,” Esfandiari recounts. “Looking back, it does not surprise me that my current area of practice is a marriage between the legal and medical fields.”

Esfandiari’s career in law began at a major national firm, where he worked as a defense attorney. The experience was one that offered insight into many disciplines – from entertainment law to toxic torts, intellectual property and everything in between. But after five years towing the corporate line, Esfandiari was losing his connection to the reason he got into law in the first place – to help those in need.

“My heart was always in representing the injured and the oppressed, as opposed to the oppressor,” says Esfandiari. He knew it was time to make a change.

After setting a new intention for his practice, it wasn’t long before Esfandiari settled at Wisner Baum. The firm was a good fit, with a partnership dedicated to seeking justice for clients by holding big companies accountable for the products and services they offer – specifically when they have caused severe harm. Since joining the firm in 2007, Esfandiari has found a solid home among colleagues that tirelessly share his commitment to helping people who’ve been wrongfully hurt by corporate negligence.

Esfandiari has worked as lead counsel on several headline-making pharmaceutical and medical device cases. In 2022, he was appointed by the District Court as a co-lead for plaintiffs in the Gardasil Multi-District Litigation. The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, has been linked to causing serious harm to some who received it – three of the over 180 lawsuits pending in the MDL allege Gardasil even caused the deaths of three children ages 10, 13 and 14.

Esfandiari is passionate about the work, delivering results for his clients and staying sharp in his hybrid medical-legal field. “I spend more time these days reading medical journal articles than I do law articles,” says Esfandiari.

Esfandiari is a member of the 2024 Lawdragon 500 Leading Plaintiff Consumer Lawyers.

Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers the mix of work you do within your practice?

Bijan Esfandiari: I do product liability litigation with an emphasis on representing clients harmed by defective pharmaceuticals, vaccines and medical devices.

LD: What are some aspects about this work that you find professionally satisfying? What keeps you excited about it?

BE: I enjoy meeting and working with the various medical professionals and different experts in each of the various litigations. I get to spend most of my time with doctors and scientists who are at the apex of their respective fields, and that is always intellectually stimulating. Each litigation brings new challenges and the opportunity to learn new material about the drug or device at issue as well as the science and mechanism of action applicable to each product. I also enjoy legal research, interpreting legal principles, digging into the evolution of the law, and coming up with innovative ways to overcome legal obstacles. It is also an honor representing the clients who have entrusted me, and our firm, and I take great pride in doing everything I can to bring our clients justice and  hold corporate defendants accountable for the harms they have caused.

LD: Out of all the work you’ve done in your career, what would you say is the most interesting matter you’ve handled?

BE: I represented clients who were harmed by a device called Bone Morphogenic Protein that is used in spinal surgeries to generate bone growth. However, to enhance sales, the manufacturer promoted the product for illegal and untested uses. This resulted in causing some serious and disabling harm to patients – including leakage and formation of bone in unwanted areas. In some cases, bone formed over nerves resulting in nerve damage and disabling pain and often requiring remedial surgery to attempt to chisel away the unwanted bone growth. It was incredibly satisfying to secure some form of relief for those clients.

LD: What sorts of cases are keeping you busy these days?

BE: Recently most of my time has been dedicated to representing hundreds of clients who have been harmed by the Gardasil HPV vaccine. The injuries include various autoimmune injuries, some of which are disabling and debilitating. Given the number of injured plaintiffs involved I was successful in petitioning the federal bench to consolidate all of the cases in front of one federal district court, which streamlines the litigation and administration of the cases. I have also been appointed by the federal district court as co-lead counsel for all Gardasil plaintiffs.

I get to spend most of my time with doctors and scientists who are at the apex of their respective fields, and that is always intellectually stimulating.

There are Gardasil vaccine lawsuits in all 50 states where victims have suffered horrible side effects. Research has linked the Gardasil HPV vaccine to serious consequences including premature ovarian failure, which can result in infertility, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. Gardasil lawsuits allege that there are severe long-term lasting side effects resulting from this HPV vaccine, some of which can remain serious for years after the shot is administered. Several of our lawsuits allege Gardasil caused wrongful death. As of February 2024, over 180 cases are consolidated in the federal Gardasil multidistrict litigation.

I have also been litigating electroconvulsive therapy (also called electroshock or ECT) cases, against ECT manufacturers, alleging the devices cause permanent memory loss, neurocognitive injuries, and brain damage. One of our ECT cases is currently before the California Supreme Court and I had the privilege of arguing the case earlier this month. The issue before the Court concerns the burden of proof a plaintiff must meet to establish causation in a pharmaceutical/medical device products liability case. I advocated for a causation standard that takes into account and respects patient autonomy, whereas the defendant manufacturer advocated a position that only focused on the will of the physician without regard to the ultimate consent and desires of the patient. The Supreme Court’s ruling could have broad implications across all pharmaceutical products liability litigations in California. 

The risks we have brought to light because of our ECT litigation have resulted in manufacturers issuing enhanced warnings concerning brain damage and cognitive injuries associated with ECT. Notably, most recently the World Health Organization and United Nations issued a guidance stating that patients contemplating undergoing ECT must be warned of permanent memory loss and brain damage, which was very gratifying and in line with one of our firm’s mottos of litigation, increasing public awareness and product safety. 

LD: Is there a matter or client in your career that stands out as a “favorite” or one that is more memorable for certain reasons?

BE: I worked on a pro bono case/trial that resulted in a maternal grandmother gaining custody of her four-year old granddaughter who had been abused and molested by her daughter's boyfriend. Very contentious and emotional case but it ultimately felt great to have the granddaughter relocated to a safe and loving home.

LD: When you were in law school, is this the type of practice you imagined yourself having?

BE: I never set out to be a products liability or pharmaceutical / medical device attorney. While I always knew I wanted to be an attorney and a litigator, from a very young age, I was never certain as to what area of law I wanted to practice. My mother was a professor of infectious medicine and growing up I would occasionally accompany her to medical conferences and would also attend her classroom lectures. So looking back, it does not surprise me that my current area of practice is a marriage between the legal and medical fields.

LD: What drew you to the law in the first place?

BE: I was always fascinated by the law as a child. I knew early on in my early teen years that I wanted to be an attorney. While in 9th and 10th grade, I worked in the mailroom of a law firm in an attempt to get exposure to the law.

LD: Did you have any other jobs that fed into your legal career in some way?

BE: I worked part time in retail throughout undergrad to help cover my expenses. The retail and sales work helped me become more comfortable talking with strangers, which is an essential part of being a litigator.

If we can't help our friends and family when they have legal issues, we have no business being lawyers.

LD: Is there a specific reason why you chose UCLA for law school?

BE: I’m a die-hard Bruin. I actually attended elementary school for a year on the UCLA campus, and as a young child it was always my dream to attend UCLA School of Law. I was initially placed on the “waitlist” at UCLA School of Law and recall once a week during the summer going in person to the admission office to inquire about my status. I had rented a U-Haul and was getting ready to move up north to another law school when I decided to make one final stop at the UCLA admission office and was informed a spot had just opened up on the first day of classes and I was accepted off the waitlist. I gave a grizzly hug to the Dean of Admissions and headed off to my first law school class.    

LD: What advice do you have now for current law school students?

BE: I’d tell them to speak to upper classmates – the 2Ls and 3Ls – and ask them who are the top professors and take courses from those professors. Take those courses even if you don't care about the area of law. A good professor can make any subject exciting and usually great professors are able to explain and teach the theories behind the law – which is imperative since the law is constantly changing and evolving but if you understand the theory behind a specific law or subject matter you will always be able to understand the evolution and at times predict the evolution.

LD: Was there an early experience or mentor who really helped shape the course of your professional life?

BE: I started my practice as a defense attorney in a large defense firm. In my first year, a close friend of mine had an employment-related legal issue arise, to which I did not know the answer, but I knew a senior partner was an expert in that area of the law. I did not know nor work with the senior partner, but I mustered the courage to walk into his office while he was on the phone. After his call ended, I asked him my friend's question. He immediately opened a legal treatise to review a passage, called another attorney in a different office to inquire about a specific statute and wrote out a few quick notes – including specific statutes – that could help my friend in his employment dispute. When I thanked him, he responded "If we can't help our friends and family when they have legal issues, we have no business being lawyers." Since then, anytime a friend, co-worker or family member has come to me with a legal issue – even as small and routine as a traffic ticket, landlord tenant dispute, etc. – I do my very best to try to help them. I will attend a traffic hearing or at a minimum put them in touch with someone who can address their problem.

LD: How has your practice changed since the early part of your career?

BE: For those first five years as a defense attorney, I was handling a variety of cases ranging from entertainment law, copyright law, professional liability and toxic torts. My heart however was always in representing the injured and the oppressed, as opposed to the oppressor. I eventually looked for opportunities at a plaintiffs' firm and found Baum Hedlund – now Wisner Baum – and have loved every minute since.

LD: And you’re now involved in firm management, correct?

BE: Yes, I was honored to be appointed to the board of directors at our firm, which really allows me to work closely with my colleagues to shape the direction the firm is heading.

LD: What are some of the challenges of joining the board?

BE: Since joining the board of directors at the firm I have had to dedicate more time to the business side of a law practice, including dealing with finances, vendors, human resources issues, and addressing the various issues that arise when you have a large office staff and are representing thousands of clients in multi-state litigations.

LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?

BE: I love soccer. In my younger years I used to play it constantly and continued playing pickup games throughout my early years as an attorney until the time and travel required by work – and eventually my knees – caused me to stop playing. I still love watching it and try to attend matches whenever possible.

LD: Do you have a favorite book or movie about the justice system?

BE: “The Firm;” “A Time to Kill;” “The King of Torts” ... I used to be a huge Grisham fan!

LD: Lastly, if you weren’t a lawyer, what do you imagine you’d be doing now?

BE: Living in a van down by the river.