A public fight between the Tennessee attorney general and counties that have filed separate lawsuits against the opioid industry could be the first of many similar conflicts as state AGs try to assert control over mushrooming litigation over the addiction crisis.
Tennessee AG Herbert Slatery is seeking to intervene in lawsuits filed by local prosecutors in 14 judicial districts representing 47 counties, saying their lawsuits “impede my ability to prosecute all of the opioid litigation implicating the State’s interests.” Slatery, a Republican, also objects to the counties’ use of private lawyers working under contingency-fee contracts, saying the counties had no authority to hire them.
“Our consistent position has been that all recoveries go to the state and affected areas, not to outside attorneys,” Slatery said in a news release last week.
The fight illustrates a big potential stumbling block in the drive to negotiate a nationwide settlement of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies. Hundreds of lawsuits by cities and counties have been consolidated in a federal court in Ohio, where U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster has told the parties he wants to hammer out a settlement that includes significant changes in how the companies do business.
But there are hundreds more lawsuits pending in state courts beyond the reach of Polster’s multidistrict litigation, and a bipartisan coalition of 41 state AGs is also investigating the industry in possible preparation for their own lawsuits. More than a dozen states have already filed suit – including Ohio, Washington, Missouri and Kentucky. Industry negotiators are unlikely to agree to partial settlements that require them to pay out hundreds of millions or billions of dollars yet leave them vulnerable to continuing lawsuits that could bankrupt them many times over.
Continue reading this Legal Newsline story on Forbes.com.