A New York jury has ruled against Teva Pharmaceuticals and a handful of its subsidiaries in a sprawling case holding the pharmaceutical giant liable for contributing to the "public nuisance" that was the opioid epidemic.
The sprawling six-month trial ended Thursday, with the jury's finding. The ruling stems specifically from the role opioids played in two counties in New York.
New York State was also ruled partially responsible for the crisis.
The trial began in June and was argued jointly by New York State and Suffolk and Nassau counties. The case began with more than two dozen defendants and was the first of its kind to target the entirety of the opioid supply chain.
Targets included everyone on down from the pharmaceutical companies that manufactured pain pills, to the distributors of the drugs and even the pharmacy chains that filled prescriptions.
But by the time jury deliberations started, the defendants had been reduced to Teva and a handful of others. As one lawyer pointed out, the trial touched "all four seasons."
"The trial itself has touched four seasons. We started in the spring, summer and of course now we’re into the winter," said New York State Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo before the verdict was announced. "It was an ultra marathon."
At the beginning, the case was considered so vast that it was going to be held in the auditorium of a local law school on Long Island because there wasn't a courtroom in Central Islip large enough to fit all the defendants and their legal teams.
The six-member jury was asked to determine whether the companies played a role in perpetuating an ongoing public nuisance, ie the opioid epidemic. The "public nuisance" claim has been used in several other opioid-related lawsuits.
Of course, the number of people killed by opioids both licit and illicit reached a record of more than 100K in 20202, according to CDC data.
Just days before the New York trial began, J&J (the same company that produced the one-shot COVID vaccine) agreed to pay $230M to settle its claims as part of the suit. And as the months wore on, almost all defendants in the sweeping case agreed to multimillion-dollar settlements - all except Teva and its subsidiaries. They included several distributors who settled for a combined $1 billion.
The lawsuit dredged up embarrassing parody videos from an internal sales conference. The videos were said to involve references to "Austin Powers" and "A Few Good Men".
During the trial, attorneys for Suffolk and Nassau Counties and New York State showed the jury videos one company created for an internal sales conference. In the videos, executives spoofed film scenes, including “Austin Powers,” where in the voice of the villain Dr. Evil, one discussed pushing doctors to prescribe their opioid over a competitor’s product.
In another, a vice president of sales is spliced into a scene from “A Few Good Men,” explaining that sales representatives have quotas: “You can’t handle the truth,” he says in part. “Quotas have to be exceeded.”
No wonder Teva's lawyers tried to get the suit dropped based on the improper - they said - suggestion that these videos aptly represented their sales practices.