AG Todd Rokita announces a settlement with Johnson & Johnson and opioid distributors.
Indiana AG Todd Rokita has announced a $507 million settlement with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and opioid distributors Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen, effectively closing the states’ cases against these companies. The funds are meant to help the Indiana combat the aftereffects of the opioid crisis and are part of the nationwide $26 million agreement between 46 states, many local governments and the plaintiffs.
Indiana has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, and in the four-year span between 2012 and 2016, there were 58 Indiana counties prescribing at rates higher than 100 prescriptions per 100 residents.
“No amount of money will ever compensate families for the loss of loved ones,” Rokita said. “But a settlement of this magnitude helps prevent similar types of corporate irresponsibility from ever happening again.” The AG added the funds will support “local law enforcement efforts, drug task forces, regional treatment hubs and early intervention and crisis support, among other important programs.”
In total, 70% of the funds will go towards opioid reduction and state leaders “will decide how to spend half that amount, while local governments choose how to allocate the other half.” The remainder will be shared evenly between state and local communities, and they will determine how to allocate the money.
Rokita blamed the low opt-in rate to attorneys representing local governments in their lawsuits, saying the private attorneys were “more interested in getting themselves big paydays than working in the best interest of the state.” However, Irwin Levin, managing partner at Cohen & Malad, who is estimated to be representing 80% of the communities said the problem was actually a “very, very bad law” which was supported by the AG.
“This is not about attorney fees,” Levin said. “This is about how under the original statute no city and county could have participated in future settlements, which would reduce their ability to recover more money. Why would anyone opt in?” He explained that as the nationwide settlement was being negotiated, several AGs started to meet with trial attorneys representing local communities and they created “memorandums of understanding for how the settlement funds would be distributed.” However, Rokita chose to forgo meeting with the attorneys and went straight to the Legislature.
“Under the 2021 statutory provisions, local government would have received just 15% of the settlement proceeds while the state received the rest,” Levin said. The law needed to be changed before the attorneys would consider opting in. Eventually, they were able to do just this.
“We’re proud of all the work that we and our clients did and we’re happy the Legislature responded so we can address the opioid crisis,” Levin said. Regarding attorneys’ fees, he added that only the communities filing their own litigation would be responsible for compensating their attorneys and they would be responsible for merely 8.7% of their settlement dollars.
“This case is a poster child for responsible lawyering,” Levin said. “We had to, with the help of the Legislature, change the law so that is fair, and our clients could participate, bringing in an additional $238 million to the State and then reduced our fees to get the deal done. There is no politics in this for us. We were just trying to accomplish the needs of the local governments and their citizens.”