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Lawsuits Over Opioid-Addicted Infants Will Not Be Consolidated in Separate MDL

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has decided not to establish separate pretrial proceedings for the growing number of lawsuits involving opioid-addicted infants, indicating that there is sufficient overlap with claims brought by states and municipalities pursuing damages stemming from the opioid crisis to consolidate the claims as part of a single multidistrict litigation (MDL).

There are currently more than 1,300 opioid addiction lawsuits filed in the federal court system, each seeking damages from various manufacturers and distributors of the powerful narcotic medications over addiction and abuse problems that have plagued the nation in the recent years.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in the claims, the U.S. JPML established centralized proceedings for the opioid cases last year, consolidating the claims before U.S. District Judge Dan A. Polster in the Northern District of Ohio, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

So far, the litigation has focused primarily on claims for damages stemming from improper marketing and distribution of opiate medications into cities, states and towns nationwide. However, in recent months, a growing number of families have filed individual injury lawsuits on behalf of infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) and other health problems associated with exposure to opioids during pregnancy.

In September, a group of plaintiffs filed a motion seeking to establish a separate MDL for all infant opioid addiction lawsuits, which seek funds for medical monitoring and damages related future treatment that may be required for the rest of the child’s life.

While plaintiffs claimed that insufficient steps are being taken in the original opioid MDL to address the allegations raised in these complaints brought on behalf of infants born dependent on opioids, manufacturers opposed the creation of a separate MDL.

Following oral arguments presented last month, the U.S. JPML issued an order denying transfer (PDF) on Friday, meaning the cases will remain before Judge Polster.

“Few efficiencies will be gained by creating a new MDL for NAS plaintiffs. Discovery regarding the marketing, manufacture, distribution and diversion of prescription opiates in plaintiffs’ cases will substantially overlap with that being undertaken in MDL No. 2804,” the panel determined. “Significantly, the risk of inconsistent pretrial rulings would increase dramatically were we to create another MDL, as plaintiffs request, before a judge in a district outside the Northern District of Ohio.”

The panel noted that the plaintiffs had requested the transferee courts be elsewhere than the Northern District of Ohio, and said it would result in costly duplication of activity and effort, the need for new case management protocols and counsel leadership, and overlapping discovery matters.

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