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Opioid Class Action Litigation May Drastically Change With A Global Resolution

  • Class Action & Mass Tort
  • 6 Mins
Opioid litigation is a hot topic in the U.S. legal community. In response to the country’s opioid crisis, several states, individuals, and other local governments have filed lawsuits against various prescription opioid manufacturers and distributors. Legal maneuvers like these suggests that a global resolution of this matter could be on the horizon. A global resolution could take many forms like conventional settlements, trials, or the current front runner – a negotiation class. If this happens, many worry if the settlement funds would actually go to programs and treatment to help fight the opioid epidemic and truly remedy damage resulting from opioid abuse.

Recent Opioid Settlement Efforts

There currently are a lot of moving parts regarding U.S. opioid cases – most notable are multidistrict litigations (“MDL”) which are comprised of over 2,000 lawsuits by government entities and other groups of affected individuals. Over several objections, the Ohio federal judge overseeing the MDL approved a nationwide negotiation class on Sept.11 that would cover more than 30,000 governmental entities. The judge expressed a desire to globally settle these claims in order to provide compensation for things like medical treatment, emergency services, and other programs that could help combat opioid dependency. Class members can decide whether to opt in or out of the settlement class by Nov. 22. Additionally, trials in that matter for two Ohio county plaintiffs have already began. Some parties swiftly filed appeals to try and delay the trials and stop the negotiation class. These issues are currently pending before the Sixth Circuit Court.

Additionally, four defendants have already settled to avoid the October trial. Johnson & Johnson, who recently lost an independent opioid trial in Oklahoma for $572 million, just settled with the Ohio counties for $20.4 million. Mallinckrodt PLC settled for $30 million, Endo International PLC settled for $10 million, and Allergan PLC settled for $5 million. Purdue Pharma plans to globally settle all of their MDL cases for $12 billion as a condition of their bankruptcy case resolution. Other defendants are also considering participating in this global settlement. The rush to settle is not only in response to the impending larger trial, but also as an attempt to circumvent the negotiation class and Johnson & Johnson’s financial loss in the Oklahoma suit.

What Does a Global Settlement Mean?

Regardless of how a global resolution could come about, many legal professionals and affected individuals have pondered what exactly would happen next. A major concern is that the victims of opioid addiction may not receive suitable compensation. Parties appealing certification of the negotiation class have argued that it could reduce the overall money available to each state’s residents that the opioid crisis affected. Other concerned litigators have cited the 1998 tobacco settlement as an example where a large majority of settlement funds, which was over $200 billion, had not been used to actually help combat the country’s tobacco dependency. While a lot of money from that settlement was meant to fund smoking cessation and prevention programs, this has not occurred.

Opioid Compensation Complications

In the opioid cases assigned to settlement, one group of attorneys who continuously advocate for fair settlement distribution represent a group of mothers with newborns who used opioids while pregnant. Mothers who used opioids during pregnancy experienced lower birth rates and newborns who were exposed to opioids in-utero have suffered numerous issues including neonatal abstinence syndrome and developmental complications. Currently, these attorneys represent about 25,000 children in that category. The MDL judge denied their requests for a separate litigation track and encouraged collaboration with the government attorneys.

However, the government attorneys have not let those attorneys directly participate in settlement negotiations to date and these smaller groups are worried that a mass settlement will not fairly represent their clients’ interests. They want a generous portion of any settlement money to go into a trust to help with future treatment for these children will need as a consequence to opioid exposure in the womb. While the government attorneys have acknowledged that pregnant women and newborns are a special class and should receive specific aid from a global settlement, past matters like the tobacco settlement leave uncertainty. Attorneys representing pregnant women and children will require clear terms outlining consistent compensation, if it gets to that point.

No Settlement Left Behind

Other similarly situated groups are worried about receiving compensation from a global settlement. Groups like hospitals and other emergency health care providers that have expended extra resources because of the opioid crisis. Often, opioid patients were unable to pay these entities for their services due to lack of insurance or low-income status. Previously, the comparable tobacco settlement case left these types of medical providers out of settlement distributions but these groups will likely push for involvement in any global resolution of the opioid cases.


All these examples demonstrate that there is a long road ahead for the country’s opioid litigation. The process will be full of advocates seeking fair distribution of any global settlement that would work to right the wrongs many individuals and private businesses have suffered as a result of this national crisis.If you found this blog informative, you may enjoy reading Class Action Email Notifications: Separating The Settlements From The Spam or The Epiq Angle Blog.

The contents of this article are intended to convey general information only and not to provide legal advice or opinions.

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