Pocket-lining Litigation Should be Avoided in Opioid Epidemic
Many of the top drug manufacturers have recently taken heat for the crippling opioid epidemic and as more and more litigation surfaces, the number of overdoses is gradually decreasing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that prescriptions written for opioid painkillers dropped more than 13 percent between 2012 and 2015. However, this is not an issue that can be resolved overnight and many believe that the focus primarily on manufacturers is misdirected and the use of trial lawyers should be avoided.
The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), based in Washington, D.C., is the only national organization dedicated exclusively to tort and liability reform through public education and the enactment of legislation. Its members include more than 300 nonprofit organizations and companies, as well as trade, business and professional associations from the state and national level. Founded in 1986, ATRA strives toward promoting transparency and accountability.
ATRA is actively seeking reform to the blame-game in the opioid epidemic, claiming trial attorneys for plaintiffs generally make one-third of any compensation won plus expenses. This means it’s highly lucrative to represent plaintiffs in such matters, a fact which was well researched by plaintiff lawyers before deciding to push for involvement in suits brought by state governments. The attorneys have an incentive to maximize their pay out regardless of whether they are litigating for the public’s best interest. Therefore, the use of these attorneys should be avoided.
“The hiring of outside counsel by state attorneys general may be appropriate in some instances. But there have been many well-documented abuses of these arrangements,” explained ATRA president Tiger Joyce. “So it is most important that litigation initiated by state or local governments truly serves the public interest, and does not ultimately serve the self-interest of the plaintiffs’ bar. Drawing a bright line between these obviously conflicting interests has been an ATRA policy priority for more than a decade, animating our drive to enact common sense statutes – in 18 states thus far – that promote accountability and transparency when public authorities feel compelled to hire outside counsel to run major lawsuits.”
ATRA has been actively involved in pursuing tort reform, leading to the creation of regional groups including Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) and Sick of Lawsuits. The organization also worked to develop reforms such as placing limits on contingency fees. Government officials who rely on private contingency fee attorneys to represent public interest, such is the case with the opioid crisis, also put their own reputations on the line, according to ATRA leaders. Such practices should be avoided.
“After all, public health and safety must be the ultimate goals. Elected legislators and executives, and the expert regulators they appoint, must not leave such important policy making to trial lawyers, especially when there are such obvious conflicts between public and private interests”, Joyce said. “We must avoid ‘regulation through litigation,’ which has long been recognized as a corrosive.” In letting trial lawyers and their mission to line their pockets take over the crisis, important policy changes will not be enacted. The focus needs to be redirected to the proper sources in order for the issue to be successfully resolved.