Attorneys representing the counties and municipalities that are suing manufacturers and distributors of drugs over the roles they played in the opioid epidemic that has devastated the United States spoke publicly recently of a plan to bring the more than 24,000 communities across the country together in search of billions of dollars in settlement money.
A motion was filed in a Cleveland, Ohio federal court and outlined the proposal in detail. Currently, 1,850 lawsuits from local governments are pending with the same court. The allegations detailed in the suits are that drug makers like Purdue Pharma LP are liable for fueling America’s opioid crisis.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs are seeking to certify a class that will include all municipalities in the U.S. that have filed suit for the purposes of negotiating a settlement. The members of the class will possess the right to vote on any settlement offer from a company.
Lawyers say their proposal is in line with the desires expressed by United States District Judge Dan Polster. Judge Polster is presently presiding over the case and has expressed his belief that a national settlement should be reached that would address the crisis in a meaningful way.
Joe Rice is a lawyer with the Motley Rice law firm and is one lawyer working for the plaintiffs in the case. Rice says the proposal will allow companies to act in good faith toward the community without fear of more lawsuits being filed.
Rice says the objective is to form a national group of plaintiffs that will have the power to vote and negotiate a shared settlement. Rice was willing to acknowledge that the proposal may be opposed by some defendants who fear great exposure to liability.
University of Georgia Law Professor Elizabeth Chamblee Burch says it is not clear at this time if the court will give class action status to such a large group of municipalities.
Cardinal Health Inc. is a drug distributor and a defendant in the case. Cardinal Health said the proposal is a novel one that is untested. The drug distributor also said the proposal is likely to be challenged legally and years of litigation could result from these challenges.
The Center for Disease Control in the United States reported 47,600 deaths by overdose in 2017.
The lawsuit alleges that drug makers fueled the opioid crisis by overstating the positive benefits of opioid-based drugs and downplaying the risks of addiction.