Opioid Injury Lawsuits and Compensation

Find out average settlement values and options for pursuing an opioid lawsuit, and learn about the past opioid lawsuits pursued in the US.

Prescription opioids have presented one of the greatest modern American health crises of the 21st century, second only to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These drugs were designed to treat chronic pain. While they meet that goal, they are more addictive than drug companies have historically represented them.

The opioid crisis is deadly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that there have been 450,000 opioid overdose deaths between 1999 and 2018, including prescription and street drugs. ¹

Narcotics turn lethal when they stop the breathing of people who overdose. Because ingesting these drugs induces pleasurable feelings (euphoria), overdose can be too easy.

These drugs came into the homes of vulnerable Americans seeking relief from chronic pain. Drug companies, trying to fill this need while making a profit, produced and distributed the drugs in a questionable way. While they deny wrongdoing, the responsibility of these companies and others is the subject of extensive litigation.

This article will examine the nature of the opioid epidemic and its effects. It will also look at government legal measures holding drug manufacturers accountable. Finally, we will also discuss private lawsuits for your own opioid-related injuries.

Government Actions and Opioid Lawsuits

Photo of Onondaga County Courthouse in Columbus Circle in New York

States and municipalities across the United States have filed a variety of lawsuits. These cases allege the opioid manufacturers sold opioids without disclosing their risks.

The Lawsuits

Local governments brought lawsuits against Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family. These lawsuits charge that Purdue made false representations about its drug OxyContin. The most serious among these is that Purdue said OxyContin was not as addictive as it actually is.

Purdue is far from the only entity sued, though. Approximately 2,000 local governments across the country have sued other drug makers. Even pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens were sued for their alleged part in the crisis.

Those opioid lawsuits were consolidated into a multidistrict litigation. That case is pending in United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

The governments allege that these companies contributed to the crisis. Allegedly, they did this by recklessly distributing OxyContin and other oxycodones, hydrocodone, vicodin and fentanyl. A massive increase in opioid overdose deaths followed.

Settlements and Opioid Addiction Treatment Programs

The state attorneys general and others are seeking to recover their opioid treatment costs. They also want to establish trust funds to help with treatment.

Some drug companies have proposed expending billions in settlement-related amounts. These include Janssen Pharmaceutical Company (Johnson & Johnson), Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen.

Governments would then use settlement money to fund their treatment programs. These programs differ across the country. They generally offer therapy, medical treatment and addiction-fighting drugs.

Oregon, for example, offers a variety of counseling and other services, including methadone treatment. Indiana also provides medication and other treatment options. The Department of Health and Human Services also has a website for finding treatment programs in your area.

Private Opioid Lawsuits

Woman discussing an opioid lawsuit with her lawyer

Some law firms are also representing individuals in opioid cases. They sue drug companies and medical professionals involved in distributing prescription opioids. Three potential theories for a private lawsuit are strict product liability, wrongful death and medical malpractice.

1. Strict Product Liability

In a product liability case, the manufacturer and distributor of a product are liable for putting an unsafe product in your hands. That product then harms you. The harm can arise from a manufacturing defect or a design defect. Manufacturing defects are basically accidents. A design defect happens when the product itself is inherently unsafe in some way.

In the case of prescription opioids, design defect is often a better argument. These drugs have a high potential for abuse and present an unacceptable risk of addiction and death. That risk is proven by the number of deaths and hospitalizations in the United States since 1999.

When considering a product liability case for opioid drugs, remember that doctors may be liable too. A doctor might be able to then sue the manufacturer for indemnity for reimbursement. Even so, it makes sense for you to sue all possible parties in your lawsuit. More parties mean that it’s more likely for you to get compensated.

2. Wrongful Death

Family members can bring a wrongful death claim against a healthcare provider. These claims happen because of a mistake in medical treatment that has resulted in a loved one’s death. A doctor might prescribe one of these drugs to someone with a history of drug addiction.

It’s possible that the use of the drug gets the patient re-addicted to painkillers. If the patient then dies from overdose, the patient’s family may have a wrongful death claim. They could bring that claim against the doctor, clinic or hospital that provided the medication.

Another possible medical malpractice case could arise if the wrong dosage of prescription opioid was given. Such a mistake could result in drug overdose or death.

These kinds of cases need more factual development than product liability cases. They are thus more expensive and difficult to pursue. But if a death happens, the potential settlement or judgment would be greater. That money can offset a more expensive case.

3. Medical Malpractice

Even in cases where the patient is not killed, a medical malpractice claim can still exist. Medical malpractice cases, though, need an affidavit of merit with the complaint.

An affidavit of merit is a signed statement from a doctor. That doctor must review your claim. If they believe that you have a legitimate case against the medical professional, they can sign. This rule ensures that frivolous lawsuits are not filed against medical professionals.

Getting an affidavit of merit can also help your case. Though it’s an extra step, it can show you the kinds of important evidence you will need to collect. It will also ensure that your case is not thrown out by a judge as frivolous.

Settlement Value for Opioid Litigation

The word justice engraved in front of a courthouse

As with any other case, the amounts of verdicts and settlements can vary. It’s hard to know what any one case is worth.

The amount of any settlement or judgment will also be related to the quality of your evidence. Most claims settle out of court for four or five figures. The more prepared claimants are the more successful ones.

In general, you can claim the following damages:

  • The cost of medications needed to fight addiction
  • Current and future medical treatment and therapy needed to fight addiction
  • Lost employment due to opioid abuse
  • Inability to function in daily life
  • Pain and suffering

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that the cost of drug treatment for addiction can range from $5,980 to $14,112 per year. Outpatient rehabilitation programs can cost up to $10,000. Inpatient drug rehabilitation can be as much as $60,000. Provided you have the evidence to back it up, economic damages could total $100,000 to $200,000.

Non-economic damages, like pain and suffering, are calculated as normal. They are generally one to two times the amount of economic damages.

Fighting a Personal and Societal Problem

Addiction is a serious brain disease. The medical community is still working to understand it. Pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals must acknowledge the problem of addiction. They should also do their best to help solve a defining public health crisis of our time.

If you or a loved one has suffered from addiction or other injuries related to prescription opioid use, take action. You should contact a qualified personal injury attorney or law firm in your state for a free consultation and case evaluation.

Matthew Carter, Esq. has been a licensed attorney since 2004. He’s admitted to practice law in California and Nevada, where he was awarded the Martindale.com rating of AV – Preeminent. Matthew has successfully handled a variety of personal injury and wrongful death cases, as well as trials, appeals, and evidentiary hearings throughout state and federal... Read More >>

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