Jury Selection Begins In Federal Opioid Trial

By Kelly Burch 10/18/19

The trial that begins next week technically will focus on Cuyahoga and Summit counties in Ohio.

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Jury selection began on Wednesday in the first federal opioid trial, which is slated to begin on Monday (Oct. 21). 

The lawsuit that begins next week is part of the National Prescription Opiate Litigation, which brings together more than 2,000 lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors, according to NPR.

The trial that begins next week technically has two plaintiffs—Cuyahoga and Summit counties in Ohio—but they will gauge how other trials will unfold.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who is overseeing the trial, has been clear about his desire to see parties settle out of court. 

Negotiation Class

In fact, last month Polster said that he will approve a "negotiation class.” Under this model, 49 governments would participate in negotiating a deal that would apply to every city and county in the country, unless the municipality explicitly opts out. The representatives of the 49 municipalities would have the opportunity to vote on potential settlements, potentially streamlining settlements between governments and manufacturers. 

University of Connecticut law professor Alexandra Lahav said that this is an unusual approach.

"The usual class action—the way it works is you have a class representative and they decide whether it's a good settlement or not. Here we're letting people vote. We have a much bigger input—that's the novel thing here," she said. "This is totally uncharted territory. There's no model for any of it."

Time Is Of The Essence

Polster has spoken out about his belief that the opioid cases are unique, and therefore call for unusual approaches to resolution. He has spoken about his belief that time is of the essence, so that settlement funds can be used to support people affected by opioid use disorder. Writing in a pretrial ruling, he said, “Ordinarily, the resolution of a social epidemic should be the responsibility of our other two branches of government, but these are not ordinary times.”

While the National Prescription Opiate Litigation could result in a so-called “global settlement” that would resolve lawsuits, opioid manufacturers and producers could potentially still face criminal charges for their role in the epidemic. New York representative Max Rose (a democrat), has said, "The Sackler family does not belong in bankruptcy court, they belong in handcuffs.” 

However, Rutgers Law School professor David Noll said that criminal charges could complicate the national litigation, which is likely why no states have filed criminal charges. 

"There is a possibility that they'll have to pay restitution,” he explained. “And their position will be, 'The money which we had earmarked for the settlement now can't be used for that purpose because we have to preserve our ability to satisfy a criminal judgment.’ That may explain why nobody has pulled the trigger on filing a criminal action against them."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.