City To Join National Lawsuit Against Opioid Distributors

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Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

On August 15, Nirenberg and all 10 City Council members signed a resolution affirming the City’s commitment to participate in the national opioid litigation.

The City of San Antonio is filing a lawsuit this week alongside hundreds of cities nationwide seeking to hold opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable for the abuse epidemic the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says claims the lives of 130 Americans every day.

Working with the Herrera Law Firm, the City will argue in multidistrict litigation that a flood of opioids has had a devastating impact nationwide, destroying families and sapping tax dollars and resources from communities.

Attorney Jorge Herrera with the Herrera Law Firm told the Rivard Report that the firm “has been feeling confident about filing the City’s lawsuit this week,” even before an Oklahoma district court judge ruled against Johnson & Johnson on Monday in one of the first state trials aiming to hold a pharmaceutical company accountable for its role in the epidemic.

“The verdict [in Oklahoma] solidified what we already know about what the manufacturers and distributors of opioids have been responsible for many years,” Herrera said. “We are working hand-in-hand with the City Attorney’s Office to make sure the City of San Antonio and its citizens” recoup the dollars spent addressing the human cost of opioid addiction. 

Oklahoma sought $17.5 billion, blaming Johnson & Johnson for fueling the crisis that claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people in the state. The judge presiding over the case ruled the company must pay $572 million to the state.

“The Oklahoma verdict is a good first step,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg told members of the press on Tuesday. “It sets the right tone for the country in terms of communities seeking relief, seeking damages for the devastation that opioid manufactures have caused by aggressively manufacturing their known addictive products as safe for unlimited consumption in many cases.”

On August 15, Nirenberg and all 10 City Council members signed a resolution affirming the City’s commitment to participate in the national opioid litigation, stating it “is in the best interest of the City of San Antonio and its citizens” to file.

Bexar County filed a lawsuit in May 2016, seeking $1 billion in damages from more than 60 pharmaceutical manufacturers listed as defendants in the case, including Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson. The trial will be heard in San Antonio and is set for October 2020. 

The lawsuits differ, Nirenberg said, in that they are seeking damages under two different models. The County is seeking to recoup costs incurred by University Health System, whose public hospitals are owned and operated by Bexar County, while the City is seeking damages on the public safety end, he said.

Herrera said that a damage amount has not been determined for the City’s lawsuit, but the firm is evaluating damage models to determine what will give the best outcome to the hundreds of cities involved.

 Whatever the amount the City is potentially awarded, Nirenberg said it would go toward “bolstering public health efforts in general.”

“Hopefully it will provide direct relief to the communities most affected.”

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