The Danbury City Council voted this week to hire the Ventura Law firm to represent it in potential litigation against some of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies for their alleged role in causing the opioid crisis.
Ventura Law’s Chief Executive Officer Augie Ribeiro told the Connecticut Law Tribune Friday that he expects to file a lawsuit in Danbury Superior Court by year’s end. The council’s move comes on the heels of two other law firms—Scott + Scott and Simmons Hanly Conroy—filing opioid lawsuits on behalf of more than 20 Connecticut municipalities over the past six months.
The Danbury lawsuit would be the firm’s first foray into the ongoing opioid litigation. The firm will partner with Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, a Tennessee-based firm that has filed opioid-related lawsuits on behalf of 47 counties in that state.
“We will be working side-by-side with Branstetter,” Ribeiro said. “They, like us, are in for the long haul. We will be 50-50 partners. We will both be sharing the risk, the expenses and the time down the middle.”
Ventura Law’s Kelly Fitzpatrick, who will be lead co-counsel with Ribeiro, said the lawsuit will be similar to those filed on behalf of municipalities such as Waterbury, New Haven and New Britain.
“I think we will be successful because there is plenty of evidence out there that the manufacturers convinced the medical community, and society in general, that there was a pain crisis, thereby creating the opioid crisis,” Fitzpatrick said. “They misled the medical community be claiming opioids were not addictive and downplayed the addictive nature of opioids by promoting opioids for long-term use and chronic pain for decades.”
To date, there are about 180 government plaintiffs suing Big Pharma in multidistrict litigation consolidated in Ohio.
Fitzpatrick said the firm will fight any attempt to move its litigation into the MDL. Fitzpatrick said it’s unlikely the case will be removed from the Nutmeg State since one of the defendants, Purdue Pharma, is from Connecticut.
It’s also important that the case be heard in Danbury, Fitzpatrick said, “because our communities here in Connecticut are being affected by the opioid crisis. Our juries should be the ones who are hearing the case.”
Part of the delay in filing the lawsuit, Fitzpatrick said, is the need to sit down and talk with city officials and do research on the costs and manpower associated with the epidemic.
Fitzpatrick, who said her firm will begin talking to city officials next week, added, “We will be talking to departments from finance to risk management to discuss what the expenses related to the opioid crisis have been. We also want to plan to forecast and predict what future damages might be.” Other conversations, she said, will take place with fire, police and EMS officials. The two firms, Fitzpatrick said, hope to have an estimated financial number on the toll the crisis has had on the city by the time the suit is filed.
According to the state medical examiner, the total number of overdose deaths, which include opioid deaths, jumped for the first time ever to more than 1,000 in 2017.
While Scott+Scott and Simmons Hanly Conroy will collect up to 33.3 percent of any award under their fee agreements if they win, Ribeiro said his firm is capping the amount at 25 percent.
Ventura Law was founded in 1957 and has been involved in several mass tort and complex litigation claims, including against British Petroleum for its role in one of the world’s worst environmental oil disasters.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Purdue Pharma also did not respond to a request for comment Friday. But, in past statements to the Connecticut Law Tribune, the company has said it wants to be part of the opioid solution, and have vowed to fight any allegations.