The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation recently created an MDL for opioid litigation. For those unfamiliar with multidistrict litigation, the system allows federal courts to consolidate similar cases into one action. This streamlines the discovery process and pretrial motions for more efficient handling. It also helps to ensure consistency with evidentiary issues. MDLs have been utilized for years in nationwide litigation concerning medications, consumer products, medical devices and accidents such as the BP oil spill. The MDL can often serve as a tool for resolving large numbers of cases prior to trial.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Polster, sitting in the Northern District of Ohio, will manage the litigation, known as the National Prescription Opiate Litigation, MDL #2804. (Please click here to read the Transfer Order) This procedure will combine hundreds of lawsuits filed all over the United States by city, county and state municipalities alleging that drug manufacturers and distributors contributed to the current public health crisis. The MDL may also include forthcoming lawsuits by individuals affected by addiction, as well as hospitals and insurance companies seeking to recover increased costs paid as a result of the drug use. Each day brings more lawsuits with demands for damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Ohio was chosen as the venue since it has experienced a sharp increase in opioid overdoses and expended significant monies to deal with the effects of the epidemic. The JPML also noted that Ohio is geographically central and accessible by the parties, as well as identifying one of the “Big Three” distributors, Cardinal Health, as head-quartered in Ohio.
Claims suggest that by downplaying the addictive nature involved in using opioids and engaging in deceptive marketing, the Defendants have caused hundreds of thousands of people to become injured or die as a result of drug use. Past fines of manufacturers, as well as criminal pleas by executives are consistently cited by Plaintiffs in an attempt to gain the upper hand. Distributors are targeted on the claim that they should have questioned on-going and increasing drug orders by certain physicians and health systems.
Lawsuits also claim that the manufacturers and distributors failed to properly monitor the use of the drugs to prevent abuse. Under the Controlled Substances Act, a registration system for opioid manufacturers and distributors was created to ensure that prescription drugs are used only for legitimate purposes. Plaintiffs claim that the companies failed to detect suspicious orders such as unusually large quantities. Again, in support of their claim, Plaintiffs point to past fines levied against distributors for failing to report suspicious orders. Damages sought focus on the increasing cost of healthcare, loss of productivity and treatment for those who become addicted.
Judge Polster has managed several previous MDL cases, including MDL 1909 (Gadolinium Based Contrast Agents Products Liability Litigation) and MDL 2319 (Bayer Healthcare LLC and Merial Limited Flea Control Products Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation)