Thursday, May 10, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
The village of Maywood is considering joining a class-action lawsuit filed by a prominent Chicago law firm against opioid manufacturers.
During a May 1 regular meeting, Alfred Murray, a senior litigator with Edelson PC, said that his firm is one of three law firms leading a “coordinated multi-state litigation coalition, comprised of a dozen law firms collectively representing cities, counties, states, labor unions, and self-insured companies.”
Edelson representatives claim to have “prosecuted over 200 large-scale class and mass actions” totaling more than $1 billion. Some of the companies the firm has gone after include Chase, Uber and CitiBank.
Murray said that last year, more than 100 cases were filed by state and local governments, many of them against opioid manufacturers such as Purdue Pharma L.P., Teva Pharmaceuticals, McKesson and Endo Health Solutions.
The lawsuits accuse the companies of fraud, unjust enrichment, negligence and public nuisance. They even claim that the companies have been violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or better known as the RICO Act — a law that’s often used to go after leaders of criminal syndicates.
In a Dec. 6, 2017 panel discussion at the City Club of Chicago, Jay Edelson, the president of Edelson PC, compared the lawsuits currently being filed against opioid manufacturers with the big tobacco lawsuits filed in the 1990s.
“What we think we’re going to be able to demonstrate is they decided to try to change the narrative,” Edelson said of some pharmaceutical companies in December, according to a Cook County Record report.
“They set up shell corporations and fake research and started convincing doctors and the public that they had this new pill, OxyContin,” Edelson said, adding that the manufacturers tried persuading the public that the drug was not addictive.
At the May 1 meeting in Maywood, Murray said that those manufacturers have contributed to an opioid epidemic that has had myriad “economic impacts that are hard to quantify,” including lost productivity in the form of employee absenteeism, and increased costs for health insurance, criminal justice and substance abuse treatment programs, among other costs.
Despite the unquantifiable nature of the “pain caused to individuals and families affected by the epidemic,” Edelson representatives pointed out, “communities across the United States have shouldered real costs in trying to combat it.”
Edelson officials said that the “annual estimated burden of opioid abuse in the United States totals over $78.4 billion.” The combined annual revenue of the pharmaceutical companies that are targets of the lawsuits is upwards of $600 billion, they said.
“History suggests that municipalities like Maywood need to get involved in order to secure their portion of any settlement,” Murray said, adding that he doesn’t believe that “many, if any” of the cases currently working their way through the courts will go to trial.
“Recovery is going to come via settlement and only by filing a lawsuit will a village like Maywood be able to carve out their stake as a portion of that overall settlement,” Murray said.
Murray added that he does not know precisely how much a settlement would be worth, but said that if the multi-billion-dollar tobacco settlement is a guide, the total could reach into the “trillions of dollars.”
He said that the money doled out from the big tobacco settlement, which was filed by states, did not end up trickling down to the affected communities — a result that can be avoided by individual municipalities joining the lawsuits themselves.
Murray explained that the lawsuits are currently being filed in state and federal courts; however, he said, filing in state courts would suit the needs of municipalities like Maywood “substantially better.”
Murray said that state courts are more sensitive to local ordinance violations, such as public nuisance violations, and could be a better forum for municipalities to “carve out their piece of the settlement.”
Murray said that several municipalities in the area, including Bellwood, Berkeley, Hillside and Melrose Park, have signed on to be represented by Edelson in the mass action suit. He said that the “general consensus” of those other towns is to file one consolidated complaint in state court.
Murray said that if Maywood approves a retention agreement with Edelson, it will pay for legal costs only if a settlement is recovered.
When the village of River Forest approved a retention agreement with Edelson last month, the village’s attorney, Greg Smith, said that indications are that a resolution or settlement could be reached sometime this year, according to a Chicago Tribune report.
At the Maywood meeting in May, multiple trustees seemed to be on board with the possibility of joining the lawsuit.
“The idea does seem to have merit,” said Trustee Henderson Yarbrough.
“This is one of the major issues that the National League of Cities is tackling,” said Trustee Isiah Brandon, before recommending that village staff get more feedback from that organization.
Mayor Edwenna Perkins, who asked Edelson to present at the meeting, said that she introduced the notion of joining the lawsuit because other suburban mayors were joining the legal action.
“Once a month, we the mayors from the 15 communities [in Proviso Township] meet and this program was brought up there,” Perkins said. “I wanted to bring it to the board to see if you would be interested in signing onto this.”
Board members directed village staff to review Edelson’s retention agreement, which they’ll vote on at a future meeting. VFP
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