Analysis:Johnson & Johnson Settles One Opioid Suit, Thousands More Remain

The federal courthouse in Cleveland
The opioid lawsuits filed by some 2000 municipalities against drug companies are being considered in the federal courthouse in Cleveland. [John McLenaghan / Shutterstock]
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The settlement between Johnson & Johnson and Cuyahoga and Summit counties may not have much bearing on what happens with the thousands of other lawsuits the drugmaker faces, according to Case Western Reserve University law professor Andrew Pollis.

On Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson announced the $20 million settlement, which requires approval by the judge in the case.

According to a statement from the New Jersey-based company, half of the money will go to the two counties, $5 million to lawyers and another $5.4 million to “opioid-related programs in these two counties.”

CWRU’s Pollis says he was surprised by Johnson & Johnson’s settlement agreement.

“They were such a steadfast champion of their own believed defense in Oklahoma for example,” said Pollis, referring to a $572 million judgement in August in Oklahoma state court.

“They still vowed to appeal, and they adopted the mantra, ‘When you’re right, fight,’” Pollis said.

The case brought by Cuyahoga and Summit counties against Johnson & Johnson and other drugmakers is scheduled for trial Oct. 21. The claims from the two Northeast Ohio governments are the first to go to trial among the more than 2,000 that are part of the Multi-District Litigation (MDL) in front of a federal judge in Cleveland.

Pollis argues this settlement, and others struck with Cuyahoga and Summit counties, doesn’t offer much guidance for how much money is at stake in the larger lawsuit.

“You’re dealing here with two major metropolitan areas,” Pollis said. “It’s very difficult to read from one case to the next.”

Johnson & Johnson did not admit to any wrongdoing as part of the agreement.

Pollis adds that the whole process could still be derailed in federal court. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is challenging the right of the municipalities to seek payments from the drug companies. The federal judge overseeing the MDL, Dan Polster, recently denied a request from the drug companies to recuse himself.

“I guess what I’m saying is there’s so much uncertainty around this litigation, around the potential for liability, around who has standing to sue and so forth, so much uncertainty,” Pollis said. “It really is difficult to look at these settlements as anything other than isolated and random data points.”

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