Big award in pharma lawsuit encourages local plaintiffs

TN lawyers say opioid distributors "abhorrent"
Posted at 11:41 AM, Aug 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-28 12:41:02-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The recent $572 million judgment against Johnson & Johnson in Oklahoma could have a rippling effect for other cases across the country.

Judge Thad Balkman's ruling suggested the pharmaceutical giant downplayed how addictive its drugs were and helped fuel the opioid crisis.

"We're very happy to see the verdict," Attorney Gerard Stranch told NewsChannel 5. "We're happy to see that the judge took it seriously, and that he rendered a good verdict and recognized the incredible amount of harm in these communities by these drug manufacturers."

Stranch is representing Tennessee district attorney generals in at least three lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, which also puts blame on distributors, doctors and retailers. One specifically is Dunaway v. Purdue Pharma, in which there is a summary judgment pending against Richard Sackler of Purdue Pharma.

He said the Oklahoma ruling is providing good morale to lawyers who may have found themselves in "litigation trenches" for so long. Additionally, he believes this might provide comfort to citizens affected by the opioid crisis. Based on his own cases, Stranch believes it is time for the drug corporations to go through a "corporate death penalty."

"Some of these companies are so dirty and the way they acted is so abhorrent that they do need corporate death penalty and time to put them in bankruptcy," he said.

District Attorney General Brent Cooper of the 22nd Judicial District also said he felt encouraged by Judge Balkman's decision.

There will be a federal trial later this year involving 2,000 similar lawsuits including from Tennessee against drug manufacturers across the country. Earlier this year, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery sued Endo Pharmaceuticals over claims about its opioid products.

Purdue Pharma also settled the lawsuit in Oklahoma in March for $270 million. CNN reported that the company is in talks to settle thousands of federal and state lawsuits following the Oklahoma judgment.

In a statement, Tenennssee Attorney General Herbert Slatery's office said, "Monday’s ruling reflects the seriousness of misleading marketing and promotion of opioids in violation of state laws intended to protect consumers. It also reinforces that it is the role of State Attorneys General, who represent the people and who are accountable to the people, to prosecute these cases. Tennessee continues to aggressively pursue accountability from a wide variety of participants in the opioid industry."