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Oklahoma Judge Orders Johnson & Johnson to Pay $572 Million in Opioid Settlement

Posted on: September 19th, 2019

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Similar to many other states across the country, Oklahoma has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. On August 26th, 2019, a landmark verdict came down, holding the large drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson legally responsible for its role in causing the crisis. As reported by Tulsa World, Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman has ordered the pharmaceutical giant to pay the state of Oklahoma $572 million in damages. 

A First-of-Its-Kind Ruling

The decision from the Oklahoma district court quickly made national headlines. It is the first time that a trial court in the United States has held a drug manufacturer legally liable for contributing to the opioid crisis. It should be noted that Purdue Pharma — another one of the country’s largest drugmakers — avoided a trial over its popular drug ‘Oxycontin’ when it settled with the state of Oklahoma for $270 million earlier this year. 

The Allegations: Irresponsible and Deceptive Marketing of Opioid Products

In holding Johnson & Johnson liable for its role in the opioid epidemic, the court pointed directly at the drug manufacturer’s irresponsible and deceptive marketing practices. This was a key part of the legal case raised by representatives for the state of Oklahoma. They argued that Johnson & Johnson continued to aggressively market its opioid-based painkillers, even as their adverse effects were well-known and the crisis worsened. 

Johnson & Johnson Was Held Liable Under a Public Nuisance Law 

One of the many things that makes this decision so important is the state’s use of a public nuisance law to hold the drug manufacturer legally liable. As explained by the Oklahoma pharmaceutical injury lawyer Roger Dodd, “Oklahoma prevailed in its claim because it was able to prove that the drug manufacturer created a public nuisance with its misleading marketing and promotion of opioids. This is a relatively novel legal strategy — though, it has been used in some other similar public health cases, including to hold some manufacturers of lead paint accountable for injuries and illnesses.”

The Drug Company Intends to File Appeal 

After the verdict was issued, Johnson & Johnson released a public statement indicating that it plans to appeal the decision. Among other things, the drug manufacturer’s attorneys argue that the court misapplied the state’s public nuisance law. It will be important to watch this case as it moves forward in the appeals process; not only for how much is at stake in Oklahoma, but because litigation is pending against opioid drugmakers all around the country.