At trial, Mr. Lanier’s experts said the counties would need more than $3 billion, which he described as an amount equivalent to “the sun, the moon and the stars.” Judge Polster, however, had agreed only to “the moon,” Mr. Lanier added, acknowledging that he was nonetheless quite pleased with that result.
Adam Zimmerman, who teaches complex litigation at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles and who has closely followed the national opioid litigation, said: “Just imagine the costs for the other 3,000 similar plaintiffs in this litigation, or the nearly 20,000 incorporated cities around the country. With those kinds of numbers, it’s no wonder so many defendants have chosen to settle out of court.”
The money must be paid in installments over 15 years, the judge ruled. He also ordered the companies to comply with a strict series of monitoring and reporting rules within 90 days to ensure that they improve how they dispense opioids and spot potential problems. Those requirements include putting in place hotlines for anonymous tips and policies for internal compliance committees.
Judge Polster noted that both CVS and Walgreens had already agreed to such restrictions in a May settlement of opioid claims with the state of Florida. Although such practices should already exist in accordance with federal regulations, this order gives additional oversight to an outside administrator.
The Opioid Crisis
From powerful pharmaceuticals to illegally made synthetics, opioids are fueling a deadly drug crisis in America.
Judge Polster’s ruling not only sharply scolds the pharmacy chains for their business dealings in the two Ohio counties, but also implicitly stands as a warning to these companies in other pending cases. Of the three groups of defendants, the pharmacy chains have been the most reluctant to settle cases.
Earlier this month, for example, the nation’s big three distributors settled with more than a hundred West Virginia counties and cities for $400 million for their business practices during the opioid epidemic. Loosely comparing that settlement to Judge Polster’s ruling, Mr. Lanier said the takeaway was that “it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to settle than it is to lose at trial.” Referring to the pharmacies, he added, “I mean, they could have settled this for a heck of a lot less than they’re doing now.”