Bloomberg//Jef Feeley//May 9, 2018
//May 9, 2018
The judge overseeing more than 600 lawsuits targeting opioid makers is demanding local governments’ lawyers turn over any litigation-funding agreements so he can insure lenders have no control over the cases.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland issued the order Monday saying he wants to ensure the agreements don’t create conflicts of interest by affecting plaintiffs lawyers’ judgments in pursuing cases against opioid makers, such as Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson, and distributors such as McKesson Corp. and Cardinal Health Inc.
It would be improper for such financing agreements to give lenders “any control over litigation strategy or settlement decisions,” Polster said in the order.
J&J officials have questioned use of third-party funding in past mass tort cases, such as lawsuits from women who complained vaginal-mesh inserts damaged their organs and left them in pain.
J&J accused litigation-funding firms in 2015 of using telephone solicitors to encourage women to get mesh-removal surgeries, whether the devices were causing them pain or not, so they could sue the device maker. Some women said the phone callers encouraged them to lie about whether they’d already had surgery so they could demand a settlement.
Still, the complaints didn’t stall the litigation. J&J has lost at least six jury awards totaling more than $90 million over the mesh inserts since 2014 and settled others.
Polster-ordered settlement talks between pharma companies and local governments continue while both sides prepare for the first trial next year. State attorneys general also are holding separate settlement negotiations.
Hard-hit states including Ohio and Kentucky have accused drugmakers and distributors of understating the risks of prescription opioids, overstating their benefits, and failing to halt suspiciously large shipments to pharmacies. They’re seeking to recoup the costs of dealing with the nationwide epidemic.
Andrew Wheatley, a spokesman for J&J, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Kristin Chasen, a McKesson spokeswoman, declined to comment. Robert Josephson, a Purdue spokesman, said he couldn’t immediately comment.t