Oklahoma Opioid Lawsuit to be Decided by Judge

May 13, 2019
Oklahoma Opioid Lawsuit to be Decided by Judge

A Cleveland County District Judge has ruled he will decide Oklahoma’s case against several drug manufacturers for their alleged complicity in the opioid crisis currently gripping the United States in a bench trial.

District Judge Thad Balkman made the decision to forego a jury trial during a recent hearing. An official with the office of Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said Balkman has also opted against moving the trial to a larger courtroom. The trial is scheduled to begin in late May.

The civil suit brought by AG Hunter names nine drug companies, including Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, and alleges that they helped fuel the opioid crisis with aggressive marketing and deceptive claims to downplay the risk of addiction.

Setting the Stage

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state opioid overdoses killed close to 50,000 people in 2017. The White House Council of Economic Advisers claims opioid abuse cost the nation $504 billion in healthcare, incarceration, and law enforcement during 2015.

About the Lawsuit

An additional news source indicates Judge Balkman denied a motion from the two groups to split their cases into separate trials. AG Hunter requested a non-jury trial, arguing the state is seeking “equitable relief” rather than monetary damages—making defendants ineligible for a jury trial.

Teva and its subsidiaries agreed with the decision. Janssen and their related companies sought a jury trial. Teva also requested a summary judgment, a motion Balkman denied. In such a judgment, the court’s opinion is used and material facts in the case are not disputed.

A Precedent Set

As we reported in an earlier blog, pharmaceutical manufacturer Purdue—maker of the opioid OxyContin—recently settled with the Oklahoma AG for $270 million. That agreement marks the first out of nearly 2,000 lawsuits against the company.

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