Judge charts course to trial for opioid litigation as settlement talks hit barriers

A federal judge on Wednesday said a "limited litigation track" is the best option after lawyers in the opioid lawsuits failed to reach a deal. (Image: Pixabay)

After showing early optimism about settling hundreds of opioid lawsuits against drug companies, a federal judge on Wednesday said several roadblocks remain. Now, he's setting the litigation on track for early court trials that could point the way to an agreement.

U.S. Judge Dan Polster, who's overseeing far-flung litigation that's been consolidated in his district, wrote in a Wednesday court filing that the "parties reported important and substantial progress on several fronts, but also identified various barriers to a global resolution." 

"To varying degrees, the parties agreed that the quickest way to surmount at least some of these barriers is to put into place a limited litigation track, including discovery, motion practice, and bellwether trials," he continued.

Hundreds of cities and counties around the U.S. are suing opioid companies and distributors for their role in the addiction crisis, alleging drugmakers "grossly misrepresented" opioid risks and that distributors failed to monitor suspicious orders, according to the court. Among those suing is New York City, which is seeking $500 million itself.

Drug companies named in the lawsuits are Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Allergan and Endo International. Three large distributors—McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health—are also named.

Judge Polster wrote last month that the sides had "productive" settlement talks, but this week's development indicates the sides have a ways to go.

As the litigation continues, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that the Justice Department will file a statement of interest supporting the cities and counties. The filing would allow the federal government to recoup a portion of a potential settlement, Reuters reported.

Aside from the lawsuits from cities and counties, the drugmakers also face an investigation by dozens of state attorneys general about their role in the opioid crisis and another probe led by Sen. Claire McCaskill.