(Photo: David Smart/Shutterstock.com) Photo: David Smart/Shutterstock.com

Ten days before a major opioid trial would have kicked off on Long Island, a top New York judge announced that the trial will be delayed because of the risk presented by the new coronavirus.

Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Vito Caruso of the New York State Supreme Court, responsible for courts outside New York City, did not set a new date for the trial, which would have started March 20. Justice Jerry Garguilo of the Suffolk County Supreme Court, Commercial Division, is expected to hold a conference April 14 to discuss a new trial schedule.

Attorney General Letitia James said she accepted the decision as a cautionary measure, but she emphasized the importance of starting the trial soon.

“While our first duty must be to ensure the safety of every individual in attendance at trial, as the court stated today, this trial will not be delayed a single minute longer than necessary,” she said. “Once the threat of COVID-19 dies down, the deadly scheme perpetrated by these companies will be presented in open court and laid bare before the American people.”

The current suit, which was filed by James in March 2019, expanded upon a 2018 suit filed by the state against Purdue Pharma, in which then-Attorney General Barbara Underwood accused the pharmaceutical company of allegedly misleading prescribers and patients about the risks associated with opioids.

The March 2019 filing expanded the list of defendants to several other opioid manufacturers, opioid distributors and members of the Sackler family, which owns Purdue. In its present version, the suit involves all of those defendants except for Purdue and the Sacklers, who are involved in a separate bankruptcy proceeding, James’ office confirmed.

The delay is the biggest coronavirus-related disruption yet for the state court system, which has temporarily closed a series of courtrooms for extra cleaning based on possible exposure but has yet to make major changes to its operations.

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