Utah lawsuits filed against Big Pharma may be consolidated into Summit County case
December 15, 2018
As other counties in Utah have followed Summit County's lead in filing lawsuits against some of the country's largest opioid manufacturers and distributors for their alleged role in the national opioid epidemic, a judge will soon consider whether to consolidate all the lawsuits into the county's case.
Summit County's 240-page complaint was filed in March by the three firms retained to represent the county against 25 businesses and individuals from nine major opioid manufactures and distributors, including Purdue Pharma L.P; Endo Pharmaceuticals; Allergan; Teva; Cephalon; Janssen; AmerisourceBergen; Cardinal Health; and McKesson.
The lawsuit claims deceptive and misleading marketing campaigns have led to the epidemic. The lawsuit further asserts Summit County has been forced to spend a significant amount of money to combat the opioid epidemic locally, similar to the argument that is being made in hundreds of other cases nationwide.
There are currently 12 similar opioid cases that counties have filed in the state, with the team representing Summit County soon planning to file three more cases on behalf of other counties, Margaret Olson, county attorney, said in an email.
The defendants made a motion on Thursday to consolidate all of the lawsuits in the state into either the litigation in Summit County or Salt Lake County's case for evidence gathering, Olson said. The counties would likely seek separate trials in their respective counties if the cases proceed to trial, she said.
"Summit County is not opposed to consolidation as it puts one judge in charge of all rulings, avoiding inconsistent rulings, which could happen if the cases stay before different judges," Olson said.
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A hearing is scheduled on Feb. 22 in Salt Lake City before 3rd District Court Judge Richard Mrazik, where Mrazik will determine whether the cases should be consolidated in Summit County or Salt Lake County.
"The other plaintiffs around the state are opposing consolidation," Olson said in an email. "We are not opposed to consolidation of all the opioid cases in Utah for discovery. With one Utah judge ruling on evidence-gathering, the discovery process will be streamlined and more efficient. If the cases stay separate, different judges would possibly rule differently on similar issues, creating confusion and delay in all the opioid cases."
There has been a concentrated effort from the team representing Summit County to maintain as much control over the county's case as possible. Olson said the team has successfully avoided having the county's lawsuit removed from state court and consolidated with other cases that have been filed across the country. She said the case would have been sent to multi-district litigation in Cleveland before the federal court.
"We prevented removal by making claims against the defendants only under state laws. No federal laws are involved," she said. "We want to stay in state court so a local jury can hear the case."
Olson said it's critical that the pharmaceutical distributors and manufacturers are held accountable for the impact the opioid epidemic has had in the county. She reported that there was another opioid overdose fatality in the county within the last 10 days, adding "like each of the others it was a tragic loss of human life and potential."
"I am only comforted that serious efforts are underway here locally to address this national epidemic and tragedy," she said. "The opioid epidemic continues to claim lives, devastate communities, and destroy families at an alarming rate. These lawsuits seek to hold the opioid companies accountable for their part in causing this crisis. The lawyers are working hard to make sure that Utah counties receive funding necessary to combat the opioid epidemic."