Johnson & Johnson Opioid Judgment Slashed in Oklahoma

November 18, 2019Article

In an Oklahoma state court case watched closely for its position as an early indicator of the direction of the opioid litigation, more than $100 million has been cut off an original judgment against the pharma giant for J&J’s role in the opioid crisis. Originally, Judge Thad Balkman ordered J&J to pay $572 million on August 26; however, this amount confused the attorneys and litigants on both sides of the case. On Friday, he chopped $107 million off the amount and instead ordered the company to pay $456 million, acknowledging he made a mathematical error the first time.

In addition to being an early case in the growing number of claims against opioid medication manufacturers and suppliers, this case is also being closely monitored because it’s one of the first cases to determine that Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutical were liable for deceptive marketing practices that lead to thousands of overdose deaths around the United States. An issue that courts have faced is whether pharma companies that produce highly effective, but highly addictive opioid medications are responsible for the effects of the medications they produce. No doubt this decision will be used extensively by the plaintiffs’ bar in the coming months and years. Indeed, there are more than 2,500 lawsuits filed by state and local governments nationally that are consolidated in a federal MDL suit.

However, the ruling did not remove all confusion in the case. Oklahoma state attorneys asked for more than $17 billion in damages. Judge Balkman’s original order didn’t come close to that amount and his revised ruling even less so. He explained that the state failed to “present sufficient evidence of the amount of time and costs necessary, beyond year one, to abate the opioid crisis.” The Oklahoma state legislature is now considering a legal structure that implements the ruling in an ongoing basis, for up to 20 years. That would effectively amount to more than $9 billion in payments to the state to combat the crisis. J&J argued in response that Oklahoma never asserted a multi-year compensation plan and further asked for credits related to the State’s pre-trial settlements with other pharma companies, Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals. Judge Balkman rejected that particular proposal, but it is clear that this is only the first salvo in what will no doubt be a legal fight that will be counted in decades. For its part, J&J has vowed to appeal, so this chapter of the opioid litigation is far from over.