Bexar County Opts Out of National Opioid Settlement Group, Seeks Own Jury Trial

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Bexar County commissioners are pursuing their own litigation against opioid manufacturers.

Bexar County on Tuesday decided to continue to pursue its own litigation against opioid manufacturers, declining to participate in a nationwide class of parties seeking to negotiate a settlement that would compensate the county for the effects of dealing with opioid addiction.

Judge Nelson Wolff told the Rivard Report that county commissioners “like our chances and opportunities better in court on our own [lawsuit] rather than joining some nationwide coalition where we don’t have any authority or control” over money received from a settlement.

Bexar County filed suit in May 2018 seeking $1 billion in damages from opioid manufacturers and distributors for the impact the opioid epidemic has had locally. More than 40 pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors were named as defendants, including Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc., Advanced Pharma Inc., and Johnson & Johnson.

“We were one of the first counties to take any action against opioid manufacturers and distributors, and have worked over the last several months and years to clearly identify local damages,” Wolff said, which includes money spent through the criminal justice system, County hospital system, and treatment programs for opioid addiction. “We are choosing to opt out of any national settlement so that any settlement money would have local oversight.”

Harris County Judge Robert Schaffer, who is overseeing cases filed by various Texas cities and counties, set a Jan. 19, 2021, trial date for Bexar County’s suit last week, said T.J. Mayes, an attorney at Phipps Deacon Purnell. The firm filed the suit on behalf of the county.

The County previously had a tentative trial date in October 2020, the pharmaceutical companies filed motions that needed to be addressed before a formal date setting, Mayes said.

“Having a committee that will negotiate a settlement on behalf of every city and county in the U.S. is good for counties that don’t want to prepare for a trial,” Mayes said of the group seeking a settlement.

“We fully expect to prevail at trial, and settlement value certainly goes up with a trial setting.”

Wolff said any money resulting in a favorable judgment or settlement would go toward expanding treatment opportunities for people in Bexar County abusing or addicted to opioids.

“This money could be a really big boon for us in being able to offer a much greater array of services through contracts with local agencies and new programs,” Wolff said, noting that the damages sought pales in comparison to the harm caused by opioid abuse.

There were 1,369 opioid-related deaths between 2011-16 in Bexar County, and more than 3,025 babies were born addicted to opioids between 2009-16, Wolff said when the County lawsuit was first announced.

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