Panel refuses to sep­a­rate baby cases from other opi­oid suits

The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page -

NEW YORK — A panel of judges says law­suits filed on be­half of ba­bies born in with­drawal from opi­oids should be con­sid­ered by the same Ohio judge who is pre­sid­ing over hun­dreds of claims from lo­cal gov­ern­ments against the drug in­dus­try.

The Ju­di­cial Panel on Mul­ti­dis­trict Lit­i­ga­tion ruled on the mat­ter Thurs­day, just one week af­ter hear­ing ar­gu­ments on it.

Lawyers for the ba­bies said they have dif­fer­ent le­gal con­cerns and need dif­fer­ent in­for­ma­tion than the gov­ern­ments who have filed most of the 1,400 suits blam­ing com­pa­nies that make, dis­trib­ute and sell pre­scrip­tion painkillers for an opi­oid cri­sis that killed some 48,000 Amer­i­cans last year.

Lawyers say they’re seek­ing to rep­re­sent in class-ac­tions law­suits about 40,000 ba­bies a year who are born to moth­ers us­ing pre­scrip­tion painkillers or il­licit opi­oids such as heroin or fen­tanyl. Part of their con­cern, they said, is that the lead lawyers for the gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties in the law­suits have not rep­re­sented their spe­cific is­sues.

In a writ­ten opin­ion, Judge Sarah Vance said that cre­at­ing a sec­ond group of law­suits un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of a sec­ond judge would slow down the cases.

She pointed out in her or­der that judges can cre­ate a process for rep­re­sent­ing dis­sent­ing views among those gen­er­ally on the same side in com­plex cases like this.

Four other judges joined Vance’s or­der. Two mem­bers of the panel did not take part in the de­ci­sion.

Scott Bick­ford, a lead lawyer for the ba­bies, said his side is de­cid­ing whether to ap­peal. “We will not rest un­til the ba­bies’ claims are heard,” he said in an emailed state­ment.

Judge Dan Pol­ster, who is based in Cleve­land and is over­see­ing the lit­i­ga­tion, is push­ing for a set­tle­ment that would ad­dress busi­ness prac­tices re­gard­ing opi­oids and po­ten­tially pro­vide money for those harmed by the toll of ad­dic­tion and over­doses.

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