On Monday afternoon, Oklahoma State Judge Thad Balkman ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million to remedy the opioid epidemic created by the company. The State of Oklahoma filed this lawsuit against J&J among other pharmaceutical companies alleging J&J created a nuisance by aggressively marketing its highly addictive painkiller medications to doctors and patients alike. Judge Balkman’s comments in his ruling are especially telling because he made a point to emphasize that J&J’s marketing ploys were misleading and that the company downplayed the addictive nature of the pills which led to the crisis. This misleading marketing specifically played out in J&J’s sales training where company sales representatives were coached to explain to doctors that the risks of patients becoming addicted to painkillers was a mere 2.6% if the patients were prescribed the medications by a doctor, as opposed to individuals self-medicating. This ruling comes after other pharma companies settled out of the suit, namely Purdue Pharma for $270 million and Teva Pharmaceuticals, Ltd. for $85 million.
This ruling is important because it opens the door for the next wave of pain pill litigation across the country. Currently, there are 1,500 pain pill lawsuits consolidated before an Ohio federal judge and many other suits are still to come. The reason a decision in Oklahoma can affect lawsuits across the country is because the pharmaceutical companies and the victims now have a basis for what damages courts will likely levy against the companies. Big pharma executives will make settlement offers and decisions by weighing their respective companies’ potential exposure against what Oklahoma imposed on J&J.
Now that Oklahoma has spoken, we are likely to see many other victims seek justice for their family members’ pain, suffering, and death at the hands of the misleading marketing and pill pushing by big pharma. Some legal scholars are predicting this case may spark a litigation fury similar to that of the big tobacco litigation in the 1990s – creating consolidation courts in multiple jurisdictions to simplify and streamline the claims made by the victims and their families.
Families affected by pain pill addiction finally have a way to seek justice for the suffering they and their loved ones endured at the hands of pharmaceutical companies. Many people will be hesitant to dredge up the pain of losing their loved ones, especially for purposes of litigation. The Pennington Firm is working to help families who have suffered this pain to seek justice.