NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An attorney who helped reach a $35 million settlement with an opioid manufacturer over the company’s role in the epidemic in Tennessee said Thursday that his team accepted the drug maker’s “last, best and final” offer, arguing the agreement avoids the possible complications of a jury verdict.
Gerard Stranch, who represents the plaintiffs in the Tennessee case against Endo, told reporters that $35 million was the “total largest sum Endo was willing or able to pay.” Endo announced the settlement last week, just days before a trial would have begun over how much to award the local governments and the child born dependent to opioids who sued.
Stranch said that even with a jury verdict, the money could have been tied up amid an appeal, and the company could have declared bankruptcy.
“We came to the conclusion this is the top dollar we could collect and put into communities” right away, Stranch said.
A judge already ruled the opioid firm was liable in April without holding a civil trial over its role in the epidemic, a rare default judgment he said he entered because of a “coordinated strategy” by the company and its attorneys to delay proceedings, deprive plaintiffs of information and interfere with the administration of justice.
In its news release last week, Endo said the settlement involving two of its subsidiaries “will include no admission of wrongdoing, fault or liability of any kind by Endo, and the settlement value should not be extrapolated to any other opioid-related cases or claims.”
Stranch said he expects that all the local governments involved — nine counties and 18 cities and towns in northeast Tennessee — will have signed on by early next week, and the money will start flowing out to communities within a week of that.
He said the money for the child born dependent on opioids, nicknamed Baby Doe, will be deducted and put in a trust fund, and legal fees and expenses will also be taken out. The counties will each receive a lump sum big enough to fund a mobile addiction unit with the remainder divided among the counties by population, Stranch said. The counties can use the money however they want, he said.
Endo, which has a U.S. headquarters in Pennsylvania, is the last remaining active corporate defendant in the 2017 lawsuit after Mallinckrodt and Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy. The plaintiffs sued for $2.4 billion. The judge, Sullivan County Circuit Court Chancellor E.G. Moody, wrote that they have “expert testimony that supports that amount.”
The lawsuit argued Endo is liable under the Tennessee’s Drug Dealer Liability Act, a strategy the state Supreme Court said is allowed in a December 2020 opinion in a similar case.
The same Supreme Court ruling said local prosecutors could no longer be plaintiffs in similar cases. The district attorneys have remained involved in the Baby Doe case.
Last week, governments announced potential settlements to opioid lawsuits with the nation’s three biggest drug distribution companies and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson that could be worth up to $26 billion, depending on how many jurisdictions sign on. Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery was one of the lead negotiators in the settlement.
Other companies, including OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, are close to nationwide settlements, too. But lawsuits are proceeding against regional drug wholesalers, pharmacies and manufacturers like Endo that have not reached settlements.