Attorneys for nearly two dozen Connecticut municipalities suing pharmaceutical companies for allegedly fueling the state’s opioid epidemic say they will fight any attempt to bring those lawsuits into the multidistrict litigation in Ohio.
The pharmaceutical companies have made legal motions to refer the cases to the state’s complex litigation docket in Connecticut—a possible precursor to moving them into the MDL. If the judges in complex litigation decide to move the lawsuits to Ohio, where about 180 similar opioid cases currently stand, it could have a negative impact on Connecticut municipalities, the attorneys said Wednesday.
“Our cases would stall in the MDL,” said Judy Scolnick, a partner with Scott + Scott in New York City, whose firm filed lawsuits on behalf of New Haven and New Britain. “When you go into MDL you never come out.”
Specifically, Scolnick noted, Dan Polster, the judge overseeing the MDL in the Northern District of Ohio, has made it clear he wants to settle nearly 200 cases. Settling the cases, Scolnick said, may shortchange what the municipalities could receive in damages compared to going to trial in Connecticut.
“Cases that have fraud, like these, always get worse (for the defense) when you go into discovery,” Scolnick said. “There could be more wrongdoing shown after discovery and that might not be unveiled if you settle.”
Don Broggi, a partner with Scott + Scott, said more municipal lawsuits will be filed in the state, and that there’s a better chance for relief by keeping the litigation in front of Connecticut jurors.
“Our cases are really strong because of the conduct of the defendants,” Broggi said. “They are in craven pursuit of billions of dollars at the expense of people’s lives. They have negatively affected the lives of tens of thousands of people in Connecticut.”
The suits cite deceptive marketing campaigns by the big pharmaceutical companies to mislead the public about the dangers of prescription opioids.
New Haven, New Britain, Bridgeport and Waterbury each have pending litigation. Those communities are represented by attorneys from Simmons Hanly Conroy in New York City and Drubner, Hartley & Hellman in Waterbury. The two firms have also filed a lawsuit on behalf of 17 smaller Connecticut municipalities. Paul Hanly, of Simmons Hanly, is co-lead counsel in the MDL.
“These cases are not federal cases and should stay in Connecticut,” said Jim Hartley Jr., a partner with Drubner Hartley. Similar to Scolnick and Broggi, Hartley said he wants the Connecticut municipalities to have their day in court.
“These communities need to be heard,” Hartley said, adding, “These are the communities that have been ravished by the epidemic. They deserve to have a forum.”
Scolnick said it’s difficult to calculate how much money could be at stake, but said it could be hundreds of millions of dollars in Connecticut alone.
According to the fee agreement between Waterbury and Simmons Hanly and Drubner Hartley, the law firms could get a third of any damages received. The firms get nothing if there are no damages awarded.
Connecticut has the 12th highest number of opioid deaths in the country as of 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The defendants include Purdue Pharma, Endo Health and Teva.
Company officials have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.