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J&J appeals Oklahoma opioid verdict, claiming ‘errors’ in trial

Cites misuse of public nuisance laws as grounds for appeal

J&J building logo

Months after it became the first pharma company to be found liable in court for fuelling the opioid crisis in the US, Johnson & Johnson has launched its official appeal against the judgment. 

In August, J&J was ordered to pay $572m after judge Thad Balkman concluded it was guilty of misleading marketing strategies that helped to cause a surge in opioid addiction and overdose deaths in the state of Oklahoma.

The amount J&J had been ordered to pay was recently lowered by Balkman to $465m, reportedly due to an error he made in his calculation of how much a years’ worth of opioid addiction renumeration costs.

During the trial, the state had claimed that it would cost in excess of $17bn over 30 years to counter the effects of the epidemic, which has seen addiction to opioid drugs and deaths by overdose skyrocket over the last two decades.

Oklahoma also sued Teva Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Pharma, with both of these companies ultimately deciding to settle out of court (for $85m and $270m respectively).

Purdue has since filed for bankruptcy, and will aid in the formation of a new company, aptly named NewCo, which will be governed by a new board selected by the claimants and approved by the bankruptcy court.

NewCo will provide opioid overdose reversal medication, as well as addiction treatment medications at no or low costs.

At the time, J&J stated that it planned to appeal the judgment, on the basis that the facts that supported the verdict were ‘flawed’.

It maintains that the state failed to present evidence that J&J’s products or actions caused a public nuisance in the state, and that the facts presented do not align with or support the outcome of the trial.

“Janssen (J&J's pharmaceutical division) did not cause the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, and neither the facts nor the law support this outcome,” said Michael Ullmann, executive vice president, general counsel, J&J.

In its official petition, J&J has built on its case, listing 39 grounds for appeal.

This includes the previously stated misuse of public nuisance law, as well as arguing that Balkman erred in denying J&J’s request for a jury trial.

The appeal also posits that the evidence presented by the state was insufficient to support the judge’s conclusion that certain statements attributed to J&J and its subsidiaries were false and misleading.

"We are moving forward with our appeal of this judgment because it is not supported by the facts or the law," J&J said in a statement.

"We recognise the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue and have deep sympathy for everyone affected. We do not believe litigation is the answer and are continuing to work with partners to find solutions," it added.

Oklahoma state attorneys also plan to file their own appeal, on the grounds that Balkman had made errors in his judgment, with particular attention on the sum he fined J&J for.

The attorney general is reportedly planning to argue the judge should have given more weight to testimony from the state’s expert witnesses, who argued that fully remediating the crisis could take over 30 years.

Article by
Lucy Parsons

11th December 2019

From: Regulatory

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