Opioid Makers Win Major Victory in California Trial


The ruling underscored what legal experts have asserted from the outset about the opioid litigation: that apportioning responsibility will be very difficult, because opioids pass through so many entities — including manufacturers, medical supply distributors, doctors and pharmacies, including big-box retailers — before reaching a patient. Crucially, the medication is federally approved. Moreover, establishing a nexis between the corporate entities and the substantial illegal trafficking of opioids is also very challenging.

An Oklahoma state judge presiding over a 2019 bench trial against Johnson & Johnson ruled against the company, however, finding it liable for $465 million, a decision that is currently on appeal. In July, the company proposed a nationwide settlement of $5 billion over nine years, pending approval by plaintiffs in thousands of cases. At the time, the California plaintiffs chose not to participate because of their ongoing trial.

Judge Wilson’s decision is labeled “tentative,” a procedural term, although in practice it is final. The plaintiffs have already announced they will appeal and noted that this is just one state case among thousands that have been filed.

“The people of California will have their opportunity to pursue justice on appeal and ensure no opioid manufacturer can engage in reckless corporate practices that compromise public health in the state for their own profit,” the lawyers said in a statement.

The plaintiffs originally named Purdue Pharma as the first defendant in the case, but the company filed for bankruptcy protection and restructuring.

The remaining companies in the case hailed the ruling.

Teva said, in a statement, that “a clear win for the many patients in the U.S. who suffer from opioid addiction will only come when comprehensive settlements are finalized and resources are made available to all who need them.”

Teva, Endo and Allergan are currently on trial in New York, the first jury trial in an opioids case. Pharmacy chains are facing a jury trial in a federal Ohio court. A recently concluded bench trial brought by local West Virginia governments against distributors awaits a federal judge’s decision. Washington State’s trial against Johnson & Johnson is scheduled for early next year.

Johnson & Johnson, referring to its pharmaceutical division, Janssen, which made its opioids, said: “The well-reasoned tentative decision reflects the facts of the case: Janssen’s actions relating to the marketing and promotion of its important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible and did not cause any public nuisance.”

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