Federal judge scolds Purdue, Endo and Mallinckrodt for stall tactics in opioids case

Wooden gavel over small pile of multi-colored pills on dark background.
Purdue Pharma, Endo, Mallinckrodt and other defendants in an opioids lawsuit could owe $480 billion in damages, one witness estimated. (Getty Images/AVNphotolab)

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster has had enough of opioids makers Purdue Pharma, Endo and Mallinckrodt asking for extensions in the multistate lawsuit against them. And he said as much Thursday in the Cleveland court where the case is being tried.

Lawyers representing the companies and other defendants in the case had filed an emergency motion Wednesday night asking the judge to throw out reports from expert witnesses that estimate the companies would need to pay $480 billion in damages to solve the crisis of opioid addiction that’s gripping the country. Part of the reason for the request, they said, was that they weren’t given enough time to review the estimates and therefore they were “deprived of any ability to meaningfully defend themselves against these experts’ novel opinions,” the court filing said.

Polster shot back, saying in a court filing that he suspects the defendants are “proposing an indefinite postponement of the trial” by asking for an extension to review the witness’ estimates. “No Court would take such a proposal seriously,” he said.

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The $480 billion figure came from Johns Hopkins professor of public health Caleb Alexander. In the Wednesday filing, lawyers representing opioids makers griped that the plaintiffs filed a supplemental report on April 3, which added $30 billion to Alexander’s original estimate of the potential damages. They alleged the professor had introduced new methods for estimating nationwide abatement costs, “materially changing the estimates” for some categories, “some by billions of dollars.”

A bellwether trial is scheduled to begin in October that focuses on Cuyahoga and Summit counties in Ohio. A separate expert witness had proposed opioid makers would owe $7.2 billion in abatement costs in those two counties alone, but the lawyers for the companies tried to poke holes in that estimate.

In the Wednesday filing, the attorneys alleged that the original estimate only covered seven of 19 categories of costs the counties would be facing, and that the witness did not fill in the figures for the rest of the categories until a week after the court’s deadline for the report. The witness also changed the figures for several of the categories that had been previously disclosed, the lawyers said in the filing.

The judge, however, chalked up the gripes as mere stall tactics.

RELATED: As Purdue settles first opioid case, analysts say the company could face billions in total costs

Lawsuits against opioid makers have piled up over the last couple of years, and last year the U.S. Department of Justice filed a “statement of interest” that would allow the government to share in any settlement. Purdue did strike a $270 million settlement in late March with Oklahoma in a separate case, though settlement talks have gone nowhere in the multidistrict litigation that’s scheduled to go to trial in Cleveland.

Purdue will shell out $200 million to set up the National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University as well as $60 million to cover the state’s legal expenses.

After that deal was announced, analysts at Cantor Fitzgerald predicted it could set the stage for settlements in the larger case. Purdue is reportedly eyeing bankruptcy as a way to ease the negotiation process in settlement talks. The other opioid makers aren’t likely to be facing bankruptcy, Cantor Fitzgerald predicted.