Graduate students review legal expense claims in nationwide Kugel Mesh product liability litigation; $97,000 returned to injured parties

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KINGSTON, R.I., May 29, 2013 – The 2,000 individuals who were injured by the Kugel Mesh Hernia Patch received a $200 million settlement from the manufacturer. Students in an advanced auditing class taught by University of Rhode Island Associate Professor Kate Jelinek reviewed the expenses submitted by the plaintiffs’ lawyers and, as a result, the injured parties will receive more of this settlement.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Lincoln D. Almond approached College of Business Administration Dean Mark Higgins with a daunting project – lawyers from 13 firms across the country who handled the Kugel Mesh Hernia Patch Product Liability Litigation had submitted $1.74 million in expenses to be reimbursed. Almond and Chief Judge Mary M. Lisi wanted the expenses to be reviewed to determine their legitimacy and pinpoint how much should be reimbursed.

Higgins thought it was the perfect project for students earning their master of science in accounting and referred the opportunity to Jelinek.

“What they wanted us to do was twofold,” Jelinek said. “First, review the $1.74 million in expense claims for accuracy. This required examining invoices and receipts, checking both that supporting documents existed and could substantiate the expense claim. Then we had to evaluate whether the expenses complied with the court’s restrictions; the judges were clear about what constituted a permissible expense and what did not.”

Jelinek created the methodology for the review. Her 21 students investigated thousands of expansive electronic files and worked intensely from January to March to meet the deadline.

The result?

After sampling and reviewing the submitted expenses, three separate teams of students submitted reports citing material differences because certain expenses were either unsupported or noncompliant. The judges considered these reports and, based on the students’ work, determined that the lawyers’ reimbursement claims should be reduced by 5.6 percent. This decision resulted in $97,000 being returned to the injured parties. The lawyers chose not to appeal the court’s decision.

“This was truly a win/win collaboration,” said Almond, who is a URI alumnus. “The students’ work and accounting expertise were of great assistance and value to both the court and the litigants in this large and complex multi-district litigation. In addition, it was apparent to me that the students enjoyed the project and learned a great deal from this real world experience. Finally, as a graduate of the URI accounting program, it was rewarding to be able to meet and interact on a professional level with a truly impressive group of young men and women.”

Zachary Solomon, 24 of Wakefield, R.I. who graduated with his master of science in accounting this month, relished the experience.

“This was one of the most valuable classes I took in my undergrad and graduate time at URI,” said Solomon, who will start at CBIZ Tofias in September, working on the auditing side. He is preparing for the CPA exam.

Solomon thoroughly enjoyed putting on a detective’s hat as he worked through the project; interesting findings motivated him to dig deeper.

“The experience was absolutely invaluable,” he said.

Hannah Murray, 22, who earned her masters of science in accounting this month, said everyone in the class was excited about the project and believed they were making a difference by applying what they had learned to a real-life situation.

“What was cool about this project was in undergraduate audit you learn what it consists of and in this class we applied everything that we had learned,” said Murray, who lives in Red Bank, N.J., and will start as an auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers at the end of August.

For Solomon and Murray, the project reinforced that they are in the right line of work and they were pleased to help people who had been injured by the mesh patches.

“I think it’s great,” Murray said. “It’s taken a toll on their lives and we were able to step in and play a part that resulted in getting more of the settlement money directed toward them.”

Jelinek said the class helped the court system at a time when it truly needed assistance. One of the highlights of the project was Judge Almond visiting the class at the start of the semester and explaining the work and its importance. He made another visit at the end of the semester to present individual students with certificates of appreciation from the court.

“Judge Almond showed a great willingness to explain to the students why the work was important. I think this made the project more meaningful,” Jelinek said. “At the end of the day, students learned something and realized that their work had impact. That is quite encouraging for graduates about to begin their careers. I would like to thank Judge Lisi and Judge Almond for their support and appreciation of my students’ efforts.”

Pictured above

URI graduate students in Associate Professor Kate Jelinek’s advanced auditing class.

URI Associate Professor Kate Jelinek and U.S. Magistrate Judge Lincoln D. Almond.