CLEVELAND, Ohio — An Ohio federal judge filed a pair of orders Tuesday rejecting summary judgment requests from a number of the defendants in the first large opioid lawsuit scheduled for trial this fall.
Northern Ohio U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster denied separate motions from both large distributors and manufacturers of opioids and from a pair of smaller distributors. The defendants wanted the judge to rule in their favor without a trial.
Charleston attorney Rusty Webb, who represents more than three dozen West Virginia municipalities and counties in other opioid lawsuits before Polster, said Tuesday’s pretrial rulings may prove key in the cases ultimately going to trial.
“Those are significant rulings in this case which will bring about, I believe, an acceleration of settlement talks,” Webb said.
The first trial is scheduled for next month in Cleveland. The first case involving West Virginia plaintiffs, Huntington and the Cabell County Commission, is currently the second trial scheduled. Evidence exchange in the case is scheduled for early next year.
One of the arguments put forth in the large manufacturers’ summary judgment motion had to do with the claim by the plaintiffs that the drug companies caused the opioid epidemic.
“They said they wanted summary judgment on the issue of causation,” Webb said. “In other words, ‘(They said) there’s no way the plaintiffs can prove all of this distribution caused the opioid epidemic.'”
Polster denied the motion.
Teva and Actavis, makers of generic drugs, also sought summary judgment against the plaintiffs claiming their distribution numbers were less than three percent and didn’t contribute to the epidemic, Webb said.
“The judge said you’re not out,” Webb said.
Polster made a decision back in July to release some of the information related to opioid distribution; the information regards six years of data collected by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration regarding the number of prescriptions delivered and the companies involved in shipping the medications.
The information showed the country’s largest drug companies provided people with 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills according to DEA records. Six companies — McKesson Corp., Walgreens, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, CVS and Walmart — accounted for 75 percent of the pills.
The co-lead counsels in the case, including Paul Farrell Jr. of Huntington, released a statement praising Polster’s decision.
“We are pleased that Judge Polster’s reasoned opinions have almost uniformly agreed with plaintiffs’ positions on the appropriate legal standards to be applied in these cases and that the Court has denied nearly all of defendants’ motions for summary judgment and for exclusion of testimony,” they said.
The Cabell County and Huntington lawsuits, filed two years ago, allege more than 86 million opioids were sold in Cabell County by the drug companies from 2006 to 2014.
There are currently 1,600 cases before Polster.