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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Johnson & Johnson will appeal $572 million verdict: 'Can't sue your way out of opioid crisis'

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By Kayla Elder | Aug 26, 2019

Johnson & Johnson stands trial at the Cleveland County Courthouse in Norman, Oklahoma, accused of creating the opioid crisis.

Attorneys for Johnson & Johnson said the company would appeal Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman's $572 million verdict ordering abatement of the Oklahoma opioid crisis.

“We are disappointed and disagree with the judge's decision. We believe it is flawed,” said attorney Sabrina Strong, a partner at O'Melveny and Myers during a press briefing after the verdict was read. 

“We have sympathy for all who suffer from substance abuse, but Johnson & Johnson did not cause the opioid abuse crisis in Oklahoma or anywhere in this country. We do not believe that the facts or the law supports the decision today. We have many strong grounds for appeal and we intend to pursue those vigorously.”

Attorneys for the state of Oklahoma crowed over the victory.

“We are going to be the first state in the nation to abate this crisis,” said Terri White, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Attorney General Mike Hunter, who sued on public nuisance grounds, said the state has already set meetings with legislative leaders and the governor as an “important step forward in dealing with the epidemic."

“Johnson & Johnson will finally be held accountable for thousands of deaths and addiction caused by their activities,” Hunter said. “Johnson & Johnson was the kingpin in the nation's ongoing opioid crisis.”

The state argued Johnson & Johnson used "pseudoscience" and misleading information to downplay the risks of opioids.

“We have proven that Johnson & Johnson built its billion dollar brand out of greed and on the backs of pain and suffering of innocent people,” Hunter said. “It has taken more than two years…we stood up for Oklahomans. It has not been easy, but it has been well worth it.”

Strong, however, said litigation isn't the way to resolve the opioid health crisis.

“My clients are not responsible,” Strong said. “The Oklahoma and nations' abuse crisis is a serious public health issue, nobody disputes that, but you can’t sue your way out of the opioid abuse crisis. This is a problem that faces the country that must be addressed by public and private partnerships, by all stakeholders.”

As reported earlier by Legal Newsline, the private lawyers hired by Hunter to litigate the case could earn more than $85 million in fees from today's verdict, if it stands. Under a 2017 contract with the state, Whitten Burrage, Nix Patterson and Glenn Coffee & Associates law firms are entitled to 25 percent of any award up to $100 million, with the percentage falling to 15 percent of anything over $500 million. 

The firms also earned $59 million of the $260 million Purdue Pharma settlement and another $21 million from an $85 million Teva settlements reached with the state months ago. 

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