Wednesday, June 26, 2019

New York Court allows opioid claims to go forward against current, former directors of Purdue Pharma

Central Islip, NY--A New York State Supreme Court judge has denied a motion to dismiss cases brought by multiple New York municipalities, including Schuyler County, against current and former directors of opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma.

In a ruling filed Friday (June 21), Justice Jerry Garguilo found thirty-one counties and two cities had alleged sufficient facts to move forward against various members of the Sackler family in order to recoup millions of dollars in costs tied to the opioid crisis.

Among the local counties and cities making claims are Schuyler County, Seneca County, Steuben County, Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca.

According to Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman, Schuyler County's claims include public nuisance, negligence, fraud and false advertising. 

Pursuant to the June 21 decision, the Sackler family had argued that they were not vicariously liable for the acts of Purdue’s board of directors and that the cities and counties had failed to allege that any of them participated in making the alleged misstatements in the complaint.

However, Garguilo found that, under New York law, directors may be held individually liable for a company’s tort action if they “directed, controlled, approved or ratified” the decision that lead to the injuries.

The complaint, the judge noted, alleged the Sacklers, as “controlling directors” of Purdue, oversaw the company’s marketing and targeting of doctors.  The Sacklers include former Purdue Chair and president Richard Sackler and seven other members of the family.

A public nuisance claim, the judge wrote, “may be an appropriate tool to address the consequential harm from the defendants’ concerted efforts to market and promote their products for sale and distribution, particularly as such efforts are alleged to have created or contributed to a crisis of epidemic proportions.”

Therefore, Garguilo allowed the cases to go forward, pending further discovery and other pretrial proceedings.

One such case was recently brought by Schuyler County. In August 2017, the County Legislature voted to retain the firm of Napoli Shkolnik to work with Getman, as special counsel, to bring an action against the manufacturers and distributers of prescription opiates for damages to the County. In May 2018, Getman filed a nearly 250-page Summons and Complaint for damages to the county. That case was transferred to Suffolk County Courts shortly thereafter, to join other cases brought by various New York state counties.  The counties later added the Sacklers as individual defendants.

“We applaud the court’s decision,” Getman said. “Schuyler County’s lawsuit will move forward to seek reimbursement for its expenses allegedly related to the opioid crisis as well as to provide the County with financial aid to fight addiction, overdoses, drug-related crimes and drug deaths.”

According to Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, the lawsuit was filed at no risk to the county, as Napoli Shkolnik will work on contingency basis that will cover all costs associated with the lawsuit.

“By going forward with litigation, the County Legislature hopes to lessen the burden to taxpayers and hold manufacturers and distributors responsible for any role in the opioid epidemic,” O’Hearn said.

Schuyler County is one of several New York municipalities to file lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid pain killers. At least thirty-three municipalities across the state are suing pharmaceutical companies for what they claim are deceptive marketing practices.

In addition, in February 2018, New York State officials filed a lawsuit against Insys Therapeutics, Inc., alleging that Insys deceptively promoted prescription opiate Subsys for unsafe uses and violated state law by downplaying drug’s addictive risks.

A copy of the court’s decision can be found here.

A copy of Schuyler County’s Summons and Complaint can be found here

Note: The allegations in a civil complaint are merely accusations and defendants are not considered culpable unless and until accusations are proven by a preponderance of evidence in a court of law.