Opioid Lawsuits Highlight Differing Legal Theories in Dangerous Drug Lawsuits

Johnson & Johnson’s stock continues to falter as the company begins defending itself at trial against a lawsuit by the state of Oklahoma, which alleges the company made billions in profits while contributing to the opioid deaths of more than 4,000 state residents over the last decade.

It’s the first trial to pit a state attorney general’s office against an opioid maker in an attempt to recover the billions of dollars spent on healthcare, criminal justice, and emergency medical services. Nearly 50,000 people a year are dying from opioid overdoses in the United States; that’s more people than die from either traffic accidents or gun violence. Attorneys for Oklahoma called it the worst manmade health crisis in the nation’s history.perscription-drugs-2-1319811-300x225

Purdue Pharma and Teva, two of the nation’s largest supplier of opioids, have already reached multi-million dollar settlements with the state. Johnson & Johnson was the only opioid maker to take the case to trial. Court watchers expect the company to lose badly, before settling the case during the appeals process. Neva settled for $85 million, while Purdue Pharma agreed in March to pay Oklahoma $270 million.

Opioid Overdose and Liability Lawsuits

Purdue Pharma  blames addicts for addiction in defending itself against a similar Massachusetts lawsuit, according to various news reports. That lawsuits contends Stamford-based Purdue Pharma purposefully downplayed the risks of addiction to OxyContin and other opioid painkillers, and that the company “peddled a series of falsehoods” to push patients toward its opioids, reaping massive profits from sales while addiction skyrocketed. A Connecticut opioid lawsuit has since been expanded to include fraudulent transfer of funds in an attempt to prevent the family-owned opioid maker from trying to file bankruptcy to avoid the massive liability it faces for tens of thousands of opioid deaths.

As we reported on our Product Liability Lawyer Blog, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, Makers of OxyContin, and eight members of the Sackler family, which founded the company. That lawsuit contends doctors misled patients about the risks of opioid addiction amid great pressure from company representatives to increase sales. In 2007, three company executives pleaded guilty to federal charges that they misrepresented OxyContin’s dangers. In 2007, the company paid $634 million in fines. It sold $1.7 billion in Oxy Contin in 2017, according to Reuters News Service.

To date, more than 1,900 federal and state lawsuits have been filed against opioid makers.

The New York Times reports more than 18 million opioid prescriptions were written in Oklahoma during one recent three-year period. The state has a population of just 3.9 million people. Oklahoma accuses J & J of using marketing and sales practices that targeted vulnerable groups, including veterans and children.

Oklahoma is also pursing a somewhat novel legal theory — accusing J & J of violating public nuisance laws. Rather than pay for past damage, the lawsuit seeks compensation from J & J to abate the nuisance going forward. The legal theory has been used with mixed results in other high-profile product liability cases, most notably against big tobacco, gun manufacturers and producers of lead paint. A judge dismissed a similar lawsuit this month in North Dakota. While that court decision will have no immediate impact on other state courts, it will no-doubt be used to defend pharmaceutical companies during the appeals process.

In other recent legal news involving dangerous drugs, GlaxoSmithKline prevailed in defending itself against a lawsuit filed by the widow of an attorney who committed suicide while taking a generic version of its drug Paxil.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case after the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of the wrongful death lawsuit. At trial, a jury awarded the widow $3 million. The 7th Circuit Court ruled in Wendy B. Dolin v. GlaxoSmith Kline LLC that federal law prevented GlaxoSmithKline from adding a suicide warning label to the drug. That court decision follows a similar ruling involving Merck and its Fosamax drug, according to a report in FiercePharma.

In Pliva v. Mensing,  the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that generic manufacturers cannot be held responsible for liability lawsuits involving labeling or failure to warn because the FDA had already approved the name brand drug as safe and effective, as well as established the required warning label.

As these cases illustrate, your chosen Massachusetts product lability law firm must have the financial resources and the legal experience to pursue these cases through trial and to vigorously defend the judgments through the appeals process.

Legal Help After Drug Overdose

It’s important to note these state lawsuits do not seek to reimburse victims, but rather seek to recover tax dollars spent to deal with the opioid crisis. Thousands of wrongful death lawsuits have been filed by the true victims of this healthcare crisis: Addicts and their families.

When it comes to the safety and effectiveness of prescription medication, most consumers believe the Food and Drug Administration is an effective government watchdog. However, that is not the case. In fact, the FDA has come under increasing fire for an inherent conflict of interest that makes it responsible for both approving drugs as safe and effective, and pulling dangerous drugs from the market. The FDA approved OxyContin in 1995, allowing drugmakers to claim OxyContin’s long-acting formulation was “believed to reduce” its potential for abuse, compared to Vicodin, Percocet and other more traditional narcotic painkillers.

Our Massachusetts product liability attorneys follow each of these ruling closely as the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies continue to invest in legal defense of tactics meant to maximize profits, rather than focus on the safe and effective treatment of patients.

As experienced product liability lawyers in Boston, we know these are among the most legally complex cases a law firm can handle. Product liability lawsuits are considered to be strict liability tort cases. In theory, this means a maker is responsible whenever a drug is dangerous or defective and causes injury, regardless of whether or not a drugmaker was negligent. But in reality, as the recent decision by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals makes clear, pharmaceutical companies enjoy both a streamlined approval process and a host of laws designed to protect them from legal liability for selling dangerous drugs to consumers.

If you have suffered personal injury in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.