Joe Rice discusses $26 billion opioid settlements in AmLaw’s “Litigators of the Week” column

AmLaw Litigation Daily featured Motley Rice co-founder Joe Rice and other members of the National Prescription Opiate MDL’s Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee in its Litigators of the Week column July 23, 2021 following the announcement of proposed $26 billion settlements that, if approved, would resolve thousands of claims against Johnson & Johnson and the country’s leading opioid distributors, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson.

The column, titled “Litigators of the Week: The Plaintiffs’ Team Behind the Revamped $26B Proposed Opioid Settlement,” features Paul Geller of Robbins Geller, Peter Mougey of Levin Papantonio, Elizabeth Cabraser of Lieff Cabraser, and Chris Seeger and Jennifer Scullion of Seeger Weiss in addition to Joe as the settlement’s lead negotiators. Jayne Conroy of Simmons Hanly Conroy and Paul T. Farrell Jr. of Farrell & Fuller Law LLC also serve with Joe as co-lead counsel for the PEC.

Joe discussed the settlements on behalf of the group in an interview with AmLaw Litigation Daily.

“We are facing a nationwide problem caused, in our view, by the improper conduct of members of the opioid industry, which includes manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy chains. This ongoing public health crisis cries out for a global resolution immediately to support opioid abatement around the country,” Joe said when asked why the settlement terms have the PEC’s full backing. “The PEC supports the negotiated terms because it will ultimately ensure funds are directed across the United States to provide relief. The agreement includes a higher total amount than previously offered as well as increased upfront dollars for abatement programs in the first few years of settlement payments.”

The majority of state attorneys general must first decide if they will accept the proposed settlements. If the defendants find that the amount of state acceptance is agreeable, the litigating subdivisions within those states will then have the opportunity to decide if they, too, accept. If the defendants agree to move forward after reviewing the total acceptance, the “Big Three” opioid distributors will pay their full settlement amount over the course of 18 years, while payments from J&J will be allocated over seven years. The funding would provide critical relief to communities nationwide that are battling the opioid epidemic and would also secure significant changes that the companies have agreed to make to their business operations regarding how narcotics are handled, tracked and analyzed. The terms also include restrictions on what the funds can be used for, with the vast majority of the funds being earmarked to abate and remediate known effects of the opioid crisis.

Read more on the settlement terms.

Joe told Am Law Litigation Daily he is “very optimistic” the deal will be approved.

“The attorneys general indicated that they believe there will be over 40 states onboard, but this is subject to change,” Joe told the publication. “We are now working vigorously to help educate our clients to understand the terms and the resources it could bring to their communities. We have an open dialogue directly with the many attorneys general who have already voiced support for the deal. We are also in discussions with the thousands of municipal governments working together with their attorneys general and state leaders to determine their support for this deal. We have noticed that there is total subdivision support in instances where they and the state have reached a pre-existing agreement on how funds will be allocated once received.”

Asked what he will remember most about reaching this milestone, Joe said “the sheer volume of time, effort and resources to pursue these cases is unprecedented. This is one of the most complex legal actions in American history and that alone is memorable.”

Read the full column: “Litigators of the Week: The Plaintiffs’ Team Behind the Revamped $26B Proposed Opioid Settlement.”