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Los Angeles Law Blog

By John Kristensen of Kristensen Weisberg, LLP posted in News on Thursday, September 5, 2019.
Judge Orders Johnson & Johnson to Pay Oaklahoma $572 Million for Role in Opioid Crisis

Most of us know Johnson & Johnson to be a household family name, likely present throughout our own childhoods as well as that of our children. They sell us kid-friendly products, such as shampoos and soaps that promise no risk of burning or tears. Most of us were, however, previously unaware of a darker side of Johnson & Johnson – their pharmaceuticals division, Janssen Pharmaceuticals. After a legal battle that started two years ago, Judge Balkman of Oklahoma found Janssen guilty in fueling the state’s opioid crisis. They were ordered to pay $572 million in his landmark ruling.

The filing that originated in 2017 named several defendants in addition to Johnson & Johnson. Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA settled out of court, and paid a total of $355 million, though they did not admit any wrongdoing. Johnson & Johnson was the only company that made the decision to go to trial.

After hearing cases from both the state of Oklahoma and Johnson & Johnson, Judge Balkman determined that the pharmaceutical company does, in fact, bear responsibility in exacerbating the state’s opioid epidemic, which has claimed the lives of thousands. The state of Oklahoma crafted the argument that Johnson & Johnson, and Janssen, created a “public nuisance” by aggressively marketing painkillers while minimizing the risks of addiction. The compensation for damages was sought for the loss of life of more than 4,000 state residents in the past two decades, and the state requested a figure in the billions for these deaths.

This ruling, which is the first case of its kind, could have significant impacts on additional opioid lawsuits scheduled to go to trial later this year. The strategies used could inform lawyers on how to craft their own cases to see similar success. Suits have so far been filed in Ohio, which have been consolidated from more than 1,500 lawsuits, as well as in West Virginia, which accuse both Johnson & Johnson and Teva of misrepresenting the risks in their opioid products.