Ohio Counties Win Jury Trial against CVS, Walgreens, Walmart

Lake and Trumbull Counties, in Ohio, have won an important lawsuit against behemoth pharmacy chains CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart, with a jury finding all three guilty of creating a “public nuisance” by flooding communities with opioids. It’s important because the retail portion of the pharmaceutical industry has yet to bear the full brunt of its responsibility for contributing to the opioid crisis – and because it’s a rare instance of an opioid-related lawsuit going to trial and being decided by a jury.

It’s also a test of the legal theory behind many cases against the drugmakers, wholesalers, and now retailers who created the crisis. Public nuisance laws are different everywhere, but in general they establish a public nuisance as “a problem that causes harm to others,” and set out standards by which the person or organization that causes that problem can be held responsible for its effects. In this case the Counties, who were represented by Napoli Shkolnik, argued that lax standards and flawed oversight had helped to create the problem of addiction, with all its downstream effects. The jury agreed, and now hearings are being set for the spring to establish the size of the award.

Although the public nuisance argument may not be as effective in other jurisdictions, the outcome established precedent and encourages plaintiffs in other cases. That could lead to retailers in those cases moving to settle more quickly, and it could embolden more local jurisdictions to bring suits against the retail pharmacies who filled the streets with opiates. It also represents yet another loss for the pharmaceutical industry, which has entered settlement agreements worth billions and still faces hundreds of cases across the country.

The Lake and Trumbull Counties’ case was well-covered by an excellent New York Times piece – worth reading for any local jurisdiction considering a case against retail pharmacies. Attorneys who are actively involved in opioid litigation can also be a great resource to explore such a case.