Quinn emanuel trial lawyers

Birnbaum, Sheila A.

Sheila L. Birnbaum



Sheila L. Birnbaum practices primarily in the areas of products liability, toxic torts and insurance coverage litigation and is Co-Chair of Quinn Emanuel’s Global Product Liability and Mass Torts Practice.  Ms. Birnbaum represents corporations in complex mass tort and insurance litigation. Among other significant matters, she secured a historic victory for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, when the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a $145 million punitive damages award against the company as unconstitutionally excessive. The New York Times reported that the Court’s decision has been hailed as “a major victory in the long-running effort to shield corporate defendants from unconstrained jury awards.” The Wall Street Journal characterized the decision as “a big win for business interests concerned about ballooning legal judgments,” and the Washington Post described it as “a big win for corporate America.”

Ms. Birnbaum was national counsel or lead defense counsel for numerous Fortune 500 companies in some of the largest and most complicated tort cases in the country. She was national counsel for Dow Corning Corporation in the breast implant litigation, for Aventis Crop Science in several class actions and multidistrict litigation arising out of biogenetic corn and for Thompson-Delaco in the over-the-counter drug “PPA” litigation.

She also represents major corporations in insurance coverage litigations and arbitrations in the United States, London and Bermuda. She has been lead counsel and successfully represented global pharmaceutical companies in multiple arbitrations and negotiated huge settlements for her clients against excess insurers, involving the expected or intended language contained in the Bermuda Form policies. She has successfully recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for such pharmaceutical companies as Pharmacia (Celebrex, Bextra) Wyeth (Hormone Therapy Litigation) and Pfizer (Hormone Therapy Litigation, Shiley Heart Valve), as well as other companies.

In addition, she has represented 'clients in state and federal courts involving multiple products, including DES, PPA, asbestos, environmental claims and clean up costs arising from Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.

Ms. Birnbaum has argued many significant appeals in appellate courts throughout the country. In the U.S. Supreme Court, she successfully argued the case of Buckley v. Metro North, a landmark case involving medical monitoring. She successfully represented an insurer in the New York Court of Appeals on the issue of whether a punitive damage verdict awarded in another state was insurable under New York law. She also represented Chrysler Corporation before the Florida Supreme Court in a case involving the standard of proof necessary to establish liability for punitive damages. Ms. Birnbaum represented FMC Corporation in an appeal in New York that resulted in a reversal and new trial of a $5 million punitive damage award arising out of a construction accident.

She has lectured extensively and has authored numerous law review articles. She is a co-author of the Practitioner’s Guide to Litigating Insurance Coverage Actions. Ms. Birnbaum also has written a regular column on New York practice in the New York Law Journal, as well as a column on products liability in The National Law Journal.

Ms. Birnbaum has received 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.

Ms. Birnbaum has been selected multiple times by The National Law Journal as one of the 100 most outstanding members of the legal profession, including in 2013, and she has been profiled as one of the three outstanding lawyers of the year. In 2010 Law360 named Ms. Birnbaum one of the 10 Most Admired Product Liability Attorneys. Ms. Birnbaum has been chosen as the leading product liability lawyer in the world by The International Who’s Who of Product Liability Defence Lawyers each year since its inception in 2005 and has been repeatedly selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America for personal injury and mass tort litigation. She also has been named by Fortune as one of the 50 most powerful women in American business, by Chambers USA as a “star individual” in the area of products liability, by Crain’s New York Business as one of the 25 most influential women in New York business and by Lawdragon Magazine as one of the 500 leading lawyers in the country. She was named Best Lawyers’ 2012 New York City Mass Tort Litigation / Class Actions - Defendants Lawyer of the Year. Ms. Birnbaum also was honored at New York University’s 2008 Law Alumni Association Awards with the Vanderbilt Medal, the highest honor bestowed on an alumnus of the NYU School of Law.


  • Hunter College
    (LL.D., Honorary Doctorate of Laws, 2009; M.A., 1962; B.A.; cum laude, 1960)

  • New York University School of Law
    (LL.B., 1965)


The State Bar of New York

  Prior Associations

  • Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP:
    • Partner, 1985-2013

  • New York University School of Law:
    • Adjunct Professor of Law, 1984-2006
    • Associate Dean of the Graduate Division, 1982-1984
    • Professor of Law, 1978-1984

  • Fordham University School of Law:
    • Professor of Law, 1972-1978


  • Selected by Benchmark Litigation for the 2018 “Hall of Fame” award
  • Named a “Thought Leader” by Who’s Who Legal 2018 in the area of Product Liability Defense. Also ranked in the areas of Insurance & Reinsurance, Life Sciences, and Product Liability Defense.
  • Named a "Woman Leader in the Law" by Legal Leaders 2015
  • Named a “Star Individual” for Nationwide – Product Liability & Mass Torts, Chambers USA 2014 
  • Chosen as the leading product liability lawyer in the world by The International Who’s Who of Product Liability Defence Lawyers, 2005-Present
  • Selected by The National Law Journal as one of the 100 most outstanding members of the legal profession, 2013
  • Named Best Lawyers’ 2012 New York City Mass Tort Litigation / Class Actions - Defendants Lawyer of the Year
  • Selected by Law360 as one of the 10 Most Admired Product Liability Attorneys, 2010

Professional Activities

  • Member, Board of Directors, Federal Bar Foundation
  • Member, Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Rules and Civil Procedure, U.S. Supreme Court, appointed by Chief Justice Rehnquist (1997-2004)
  • Chair, Commission on Fiduciary Appointments, appointed by Chief Justice Kaye (2000-2004)
  • Executive Director, Second Circuit Task Force for Racial, Ethnic and Gender Fairness (1994-1997)
  • Member, Second Circuit Committee on the Improvement of Civil Litigation (1986-1988)
  • Member, House of Delegates (1997-1998), Special Committee on the Future of the Legal Profession (1996-1997), Council of the Section of Torts and Insurance Practice (1982-1986), American Bar Association
  • Chair, New York State Advisory Committee on Civil Practice (1981-1986)
  • Member, New York State Judicial Commission on Minorities, appointed by Judge Sol Wachtler, Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals (1988-1991)
  • Member of Council, American Law Institute (1989-present)
  • Member, Advisory Committee to the Restatement of the Law of Product Liability and the Complex Litigation Project
  • First President and Founding Member, Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert
  • President, New York Women’s Bar Association (1974-1975)
  • Chair of the Executive Committee, Association of the Bar of the City of New York (2010)