Tennessee Opioid Plaintiffs Buoyed By Oklahoma Decision | Nashville Public Radio

Tennessee Opioid Plaintiffs Buoyed By Oklahoma Decision

Aug 27, 2019

Hundreds of cities, counties and states now feel the wind at their back as they sue the makers of opioids. The $572 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson in Oklahoma was closely watched by plaintiffs around the country.

Oklahoma argued that Johnson & Johnson created a public nuisance as it made and marketed addictive painkillers. And the judge decided the state made a convincing argument during the seven-week trial.

"The defendants caused an opioid crisis that is evidenced by increased rates of addiction, overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome in Oklahoma," Judge Thad Balkman said in a statement.

Oklahoma was asking for $17 billion — a figure meant to provide addiction and other services for the next 30 years. Instead, the judge awarded damages based on funding for one year.

But attorney Mark Chalos of Lieff Cabraser, who is representing Nashville and Rutherford County, says the damages would vary depending on the court. 

"That doesn’t necessarily mean anything for any other state, including the cities and counties in Tennessee, so we can’t take too much from the amount of the verdict," Chalos says. "But we can take a lot from the conclusion of that court, that the opioids industry is in large part responsible for creating the opioids catastrophe."

A trial for consolidated litigation involving many cities and counties in Tennessee and 2,000 nationwide has been set to start October 21 in Cleveland. Nashville has been named to help negotiate potential settlements with the nearly two dozen drug makers named as defendents.

The Tennessee Attorney General is also seeking trials against Purdue Pharma and Endo Pharmaceuticals, though neither has been scheduled. Purdue settled with Oklahoma just before trial for $270 million. Endo held out.