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Judge attempts to rein in opioid litigation

Posted On: Apr. 2, 2018 12:01 AM CST

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, who is handling the opioid multidistrict litigation proceedings, is encouraging the parties to reach a settlement and has set a settlement conference for May 10.

“It’s very clear that the judge is not going to allow this to become a multiyear, longdrawnout legal process,” said John Connolly, Radnor, Pennsylvania-based life sciences practice leader for Willis Towers Watson P.L.C.

The opioid litigation has been sometimes compared to the $206 billion Master Settlement Agreement of 1998 between 46 state attorneys general, among others, and tobacco companies.

But observers point out some significant differences.

John Denton, New York-based coverage and claims leader with Marsh L.L.C.’s U.S. casualty practice, said the tobacco litigation involved a relatively small number of defendants, all of whom were in the same category of tobacco products manufacturers.

“In this case, we have a very large number of defendants and they are in very different situations,” said Mr. Denton.

The three basic segments facing litigation in this area are the manufacturers, the distributors and the pharmaceutical companies.

Tobacco is also not regulated to the same extent as opioids, which are controlled substances, he said.

Cindy Koehler, Boston-based global practice leader for casualty claims at XL Group Ltd., which does business as XL Catlin, said opioid manufacturers do not have “nearly as much money” as do the tobacco companies, and a comparable settlement could bankrupt them.

“These are pharmaceutical manufacturers, so there may not be a public interest in their bankruptcy,” she said.

Unlike the case with tobacco, opioids “still remain, in many cases, the best way” to relieve patients with chronic or post-operative pain “and maintain quality of life,” Mr. Connolly said.