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2020 To Be A Busy Year For Opioid Lawsuits

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster has presided over thousands of opioid lawsuits from his courtroom at the Carl B. Stokes U.S. Courthouse in Cleveland. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster has presided over thousands of opioid lawsuits from his courtroom at the Carl B. Stokes U.S. Courthouse in Cleveland.

Legal battles over the opioid crisis will carry on into 2020, as several more cases begin to move toward trial in federal courts around the country.

After overseeing thousands of opioid lawsuits from his Cleveland courtroom for the past two years, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster has begun sending cases to other federal judges. Polster has recommended that suits brought by the Cherokee Nation, city of Chicago and San Francisco be moved to federal courts in Oklahoma, Illinois and California.

“This will be the first time other federal district courts will be weighing in, new judges,” Jennifer Oliva, a professor at Seton Hall Law School, told ideastream.

Polster has said he will likely send lawsuits by Cabell County and the city of Huntington to federal court in West Virginia.  

Meanwhile, Cuyahoga and Summit counties are preparing for a new opioid trial against pharmacies, after agreeing to settlements with drug manufacturers and distributors earlier this year.

And amid the numerous local government lawsuits is a very different group of plaintiffs seeking damages from drug companies: the guardians of babies born with symptoms of opioid withdrawal, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. Attorneys for those plaintiffs hope to see their suit certified as a class action in 2020.

But as these cases move forward, a global settlement with drug companies remains out of reach. Disagreements between state attorneys general and local governments stood in the way of inking a universal deal in 2019.

“What I do continue to expect to see, assuming there is not a global deal, are these last-minute, late-into-the-night, piecemeal settlements,” Oliva said.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost proposed amending the state’s constitution to centralize how settlement dollars are spent— a move that local government leaders have opposed. Yost also tried unsuccessfully to pause the first federal opioid trial until the state courts sorted out his office’s opioid lawsuits.

Cuyahoga and Summit counties’ settlements have been valued at a total of $320 million—a combination of cash and drug products. Leaders from both counties have said they’ll use the money to fight the ongoing addiction crisis, but haven’t yet outlined specifically how they will allocate the bulk of the dollars.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.