Health Care

Johnson & Johnson hit with $572m fine in landmark ruling

Johnson & Johnson hit with $572m fine in landmark ruling”

A lawyer for Johnson & Johnson says a civil judgment from an Oklahoma court that ruled the companies helped fuel the state's opioid crisis has no binding impact on other courts. A considerably larger federal case is being brought before an OH judge, which involves all 1,600 consolidated lawsuits from across the United States and will go to trial in October.

David Eby likened the aim of the lawsuit in British Columbia to the one in Oklahoma.

Many county-level plaintiffs have been advocating for a plan that would expand the federal case in OH to include a "negotiating class" of tens of thousands of local governments.

While the facts and named defendants in the Oklahoma case are already-or will undoubtedly become-replicated in litigation throughout the country, one unique aspect of this case may not: the cause of action alleged by the state of Oklahoma.

That was a clear message for the companies accused of doing the same in the OH case.

Purdue, which settled out of court early on in the Oklahoma case for $270 million, confirmed Tuesday it was in talks to avoid going to trial in OH as well.

The company, whose Oxycontin painkiller became an emblem of the addiction epidemic, and whose wealthy owners the Sackler family have come under global scorn, would not confirm or deny the media reports that it had offered up to $12 billion to resolve its liability. State Chief Attorney Brad Beckworth said, "We have proved that Johnson & Johnson is the root cause of this opioid crisis".

The cases seek to address the costs of millions of Americans sinking into addiction after using potent opioid painkillers that the companies churned out and doctors freely, and often criminally, prescribed over the past two decades.

Between 1999 and 2017, drug-related overdoses resulting in deaths climbed to more than 700,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And while the flood of prescription opioids into the black market has now been curtailed, addicts are turning to heroin and highly potent fentanyl, where the risk of overdose and death is even higher.

"And so one of the big questions is, will there be other courts in other states that follow this same reasoning?" Published reports suggest the deal could involve payments of up to $12 billion and a bankruptcy process that would force the Sackler family to give up ownership of the company.

Noting that "state AGs and the trial bar have been stretching public-nuisance law beyond its intended objective", an editorial in the August 26 Wall Street Journal similarly predicts that "the ruling could have far larger, and more unsafe, consequences by opening a vast new arena for product-liability suits".

Eby and other legal experts have said the court ruling is a positive sign for litigation in Canada.

Judge Balkman's decision that the company's activities constituted a public nuisance opens the door for similar rulings in other state cases, and an additional legal avenue for holding companies responsible for their part in the epidemic.

"There are hundreds of litigations going on across the country and I do think this will send a message across the states", he said, adding that he's "happy to see the money is going to be going to some of the people who have really been impacted".

The monetary amount U.S. District Judge Thad Balkman awarded Monday is well within the realm of affordability for Johnson & Johnson, and it's probably within the company's best interests to pay it and be done.

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