(c) 2019 Jon L Gelman, All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Opioid Litigation: Anticipated Positive Impact on Workers' Compensation Systems

The increase, in both the number of settlements and magnitude of opioid lawsuits being filed, is anticipated having a positive outcome on workers' compensation systems that have suffered the burden of opioid addiction and death in epidemic proportions.
 Dr. Rebecca Haffajee

Historically, such mass torts of asbestos litigation and the State Attorney General's tobacco actions created safer work-environments and healthier workers. The benefit has had a significant impact on workers' compensation programs. The tobacco public entity claims amounted to a $246 Billion settlement over 25 years and contributed about $100 Billion to states alone for remedial action. The asbestos third-party claims benefit injured workers, their families and their household contacts, and they further subrogation reimbursement to the employers and insurance companies.  Reimbursement is also available to Medicare under the Medical Secondary Payer Act.

A recent interview by Dr. Rebecca Haffajee about the growing number of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors highlights the potential positive outcome of opioid litigation for both the Federal and State governments, as well as other public entities. She anticipates that the Trump Administration will also ramp up litigation with the filing of additional lawsuits against the opioid industry. The resulting anticipated effect would be to change the practices of the pharmaceutical industry and to repair the harm allegedly done.

Dr. Haffajee reviews the historical development of the litigation from the early individual personal injury claims and class actions to what has snowballed into a massive onslaught of public entity claims. The early individual claims were based upon both failure to warm an ineffective design of the drugs. The difficulties with those claims were that the defenses of FDA approval, and intervening causality, ie. providers, and patients, were utilized by the pharmaceutical industry to challenge the lawsuits.

The opioid epidemic has claimed over 300,000 lives in the United States since 2000 and is predicted to claim an additional half million over the next decade. Public entity opioid litigation shows promise to make the workplace safer and motivate the pharmaceutical industry to change its ways and come to the table to work to help rectify the harm caused by opioid.

Additional resources: 

"Drug Companies’ Liability for the Opioid Epidemic", Rebecca L. Haffajee, J.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., and Michelle M. Mello, J.D., Ph.D., N Engl J Med 2017; 377:2301-2305 December 14, 2017 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1710756

High-Profile Government and Class Action Settlements against Opioid Companies, 2004–2017

Cleveland federal judge to hear dozens of lawsuits filed against Big Pharma nationwide Dec 5, 2017

Mass Torts Bar 'All-Star' Team Emerges to Lead Opioid MDL ALM Media Dec 20, 2017

Plaintiffs’ Renewed Motion to Approve Co-Leads, Co-Liaisons, and Executive Committee-Granted Jan 4, 2018

Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters).
For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman  1.973.696.7900  has been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.

Updated: 01-06-2018

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