Lawsuits Aim To Benefit Kids Born Dependent On Opioids

By Kelly Burch 01/07/19

One West Virginia law firm is reviewing up to 200 cases of children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). 

A mother laying beside her newborn baby who was born dependent on opioids

Last year, dozens of lawsuits were filed against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors for the role they play in the opioid crisis.

Many were filed by states and cities in an attempt to recoup the costs they’ve shouldered as the result of what they say were irresponsible prescribing and misleading marketing of opioid pain pills. 

Now, a movement is at hand to try to recoup damages for the hundreds of infants born dependent on opioids, many of whom will have life-long health affects. 

“I really think that we lose the real human toll that the opioid crisis has taken if we’re not bringing cases on behalf of actual human beings who were victimized by the flood of pills that were pumped in here,” Booth Goodwin, an attorney in Charleston, West Virginia, told The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Goodwin’s firm, Goodwin & Goodwin LLP, is reviewing up to 200 cases of children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). 

Goodwin has already lodged a lawsuit on behalf of Andriana Riling, an 11-year-old from West Virginia who has NAS and is being raised by her grandparents.

“Her case is just kind of typical for what you hear from throughout Southern West Virginia,” Goodwin said. “She lost her father even before she was born in a drug-related car accident. Her birth mother is hopelessly addicted to pills and opioids in general.”

The lawsuit alleges that Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions and Pharmaceuticals, McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and Mallinckrodt all bear responsibility for Riling’s condition for their role in making and distributing the opioids that Riling’s mother took during her pregnancy. 

Although most of the lawsuits against the opioid manufacturers and distributors have been lumped together under the jurisdiction of a federal judge in Cleveland, Ohio, Goodwin argues that cases involving children with NAS should remain separate so that the unique details of each case can be shown, rather than lumping them together in a class action suit. 

“Each one of them is affected a little bit different,” he said. “And we want to make sure that we focus on each one of these individual children.”

He said that the individual cases will focus more on the specific ways these children have been affected by the practices of the companies that are named as defendants. The federal case in Ohio will focus more on the overarching — and perhaps illegal — practices that companies had in place. Because of that, Goodwin’s firm filed a motion to keep Riling’s case from being combined with the Cleveland cases. 

“The complaint contains very specific allegations, unique to this case, with respect to prescribing doctors and pharmacies,” attorneys wrote when they requested that the case be heard separately. “Although there are generalized facts at issue in both [the Cleveland cases] and the Rilings’ case regarding the reprehensible conduct of the defendants, this overlap is minor.”

They continued, “[The Cleveland cases] potentially involve comparative fault on the part of the plaintiffs, while Riling, a child born opioid dependent, is an innocent victim who is inherently and completely blameless.”

While Goodwin waits to hear whether the case will be heard on its own, his law firm is continuing to look for children with NAS, which affected up to 5% of births in West Virginia during the peak years of the opioid epidemic. 

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