J&J appeals 'unprecedented' $572M opioid verdict to Oklahoma Supreme Court

Gavel with scales of justice in background
Johnson & Johnson will appeal its $572 million verdict in the state of Oklahoma's opioid trial. (Pixabay)

In a landmark verdict in the nation’s opioid epidemic, Johnson & Johnson was knocked to the tune of $572 million for its role in Oklahoma’s addiction crisis. State prosecutors touted the decision as a major win—but J&J hasn’t accepted the verdict yet.

Wednesday, the drugmaker called the half-billion-dollar verdict an “unprecedented interpretation of Oklahoma public nuisance law” in an appeal to the state’s Supreme Court. J&J’s attorneys said the public nuisance findings could set a troubling precedent for future lawsuits against pharma in the state.

“That novel ruling has immense public policy implications, undermining product liability law rules, which have always governed disputes over the marketing and sales of goods, and threatening wide-ranging liability for companies that do business in Oklahoma,” the attorneys wrote.

The interpretation of Oklahoma’s public nuisance law was at the center of its argument against J&J, which prosecutors called the “kingpin” of the state’s opioid epidemic. Although a potentially major hit to J&J by itself, the Oklahoma verdict may be something of a one-off, given that other opioid lawsuits target drugmakers’ marketing of products rather than their effect on public health

RELATED: How significant is J&J's $572M opioid verdict in Oklahoma? It's complicated

The single largest arena where thousands of other lawsuits are playing out is a multidistrict litigation in Cleveland that snagged a record-setting settlement from one drugmaker.

Earlier this month, Purdue reached an agreement in principle with 24 states and thousands of local plaintiffs over its marketing of powerful opioid OxyContin.

As part of the deal, Purdue agreed to pay at least $10 billion and restructure the company as a public trust through Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Purdue’s billionaire founding family, the Sacklers, also reportedly agreed to chip in at least $3 billion as part of the total settlement.

The settlement would immediately rank as the largest ever inked by a drugmaker.

As part of its bankruptcy filing, Purdue attempted to secure annual and long-term incentives for its employees as an inducement to stick around, a move a company spokeswoman called “reasonable” and “commonplace.”

RELATED: Purdue seeks $34M in employee bonuses as bankruptcy process begins

Purdue asked a New York bankruptcy court’s permission to shell out $34 million in annual and long-term incentives to its employees, including $26.5 million by March 2020 for its annual incentive plan, which awards employees based on personal performance and the financial performance of the company. The drugmaker is also seeking $7.9 million in its long-term cash incentive program, which covers three years of employee performance.

While Purdue is the only drugmaker who has reached a tentative “global settlement” in Ohio, three others—Endo, Allergan and Mallinckrodt—have reached agreements in two Ohio county trials designated as bellwethers for the larger litigation.

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