Jurors rule that chains acted as 'public nuisances'
CLEVELAND — A federal jury on Tuesday found that pharmacies operated by Walmart, CVS Health and Walgreens contributed to the opioid epidemic in two Ohio counties, Reuters reported.
The trial was for a lawsuit filed in 2018 by Ohio’s Lake and Trumbull counties against Giant Eagle, Walgreens Boots Alliance, CVS Health and Walmart. Thousands of other lawsuits have been filed by state, county and local governments across the country charging that pharmacies were partly to blame for the opioid crisis because they failed to monitor prescriptions and patient drug use, ignoring “red flags” that opioids were being illegally diverted.
The lawsuits claim that by acting as “public nuisances” the pharmacies helped fuel a crisis that saddled local governments with costs associated with overdose death and addiction treatment. Rite Aid Corp. settled with the two Ohio counties in August, before the case went to trial. Terms of that settlement, which severed Rite Aid from the case, were not disclosed. Giant Eagle settled more recently, while the trial was underway but before the case went to the jury for a verdict.
“The judgment today against Walmart, Walgreens and CVS represents the overdue reckoning for their complicity in creating a public nuisance,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers said in a joint statement.
Jurors only assessed liability. It is up to U.S. District Judge Dan Polster to decide how much the companies owe to abate, or address, the public nuisance in Ohio’s Lake and Trumbull counties.
He has tentatively scheduled a trial on that question for May 9. The counties’ lawyers have said the costs are potentially $1 billion for each county.
CVS in a statement said it strongly disagreed with the verdict and planned to appeal, arguing that the court misapplied public nuisance law, which other courts in similar opioid cases have recently declined to apply to drug manufacturers.
“As plaintiffs’ own experts testified, many factors have contributed to the opioid abuse issue, and solving this problem will require involvement from all stakeholders in our healthcare system and all members of our community,” CVS said.
Walmart also said it would appeal the “flawed” verdict, which the company said reflected “a trial that was engineered to favor the plaintiffs’ attorneys and was riddled with remarkable legal and factual mistakes.”
The company said the verdict was out of step with the rulings of courts around the country that have rejected the “public nuisance” theory of liability.
“Plaintiffs’ attorneys sued Walmart in search of deep pockets while ignoring the real causes of the opioid crisis—such as pill mill doctors, illegal drugs, and regulators asleep at the switch—and they wrongly claimed pharmacists must second-guess doctors in a way the law never intended and many federal and state health regulators say interferes with the doctor-patient relationship,” the company said in a statement. “As a pharmacy industry leader in the fight against the opioid crisis, Walmart is proud of our pharmacists, who are dedicated to helping patients in the face of a tangled web of conflicting federal and state opioid guidelines.”