No Settlements as Federal Opioid Cases Move to Trial

Judge Dan Aaron Polster of the Northern District of Ohio will preside over three consolidated federal lawsuits against makers and distributors of opioids in what is called a “bellwether,” or test case, for a complicated legal battle.

The trial begins one year after Judge Polster announced desire for the cases to be settled outside of the courtroom. Negotiations over who would foot the bill for the devastation caused by prescription opioid abuse stalled between defendants (including Purdue Pharma, CVS, and Cardinal Health) and plaintiffs (representatives for millions of citizens, local governments, hospitals, union benefit funds, and infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome).

In what has become one of the largest and most complicated legal battles in American history, a settlement could amount to tens of billions of dollars.

The plaintiffs’ case rests in part on the contention that manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies deliberately failed to raise concerns to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) about suspicious opioid orders. The DEA turned over more than 400 million lines of data detailing how many opioids were made, distributed, and sold from 2006 to 2014.

Despite having these data, the plaintiffs likely will face a protracted trial. Typically, patients who sue for medical malpractice must turn over their own medical records as proof, but, because most plaintiffs in these cases are government entities seeking to be reimbursed for the accumulated costs of drug addiction, producing evidence showing how those costs are calculated will be nearly impossible.

If the bellwether ends in a victory for plaintiffs, appeals courts, increasingly filled with conservative judges, would be unlikely to uphold all of Judge Polster’s rulings.

Source: The New York Times, January 30, 2019.