Law Firms to Reap Massive Fees from U.S. Opioid Settlements

In the aftermath of the U.S. opioid crisis, a court-appointed panel on Friday outlined the allocation of $2.13 billion in legal fees from national settlements with the drug industry, ensuring top law firms receive significant payouts.

Motley Rice emerged as the leading beneficiary, securing 18.6% of the fund, equating to $396 million. Other major recipients include Simmons Hanly Conroy from New York with 11.4% ($244 million), Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd from California with 8.2% ($174 million), and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, also from California, with 5.65% ($120 million).

The fee pool is derived from settlements exceeding $46 billion, involving drug manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies, aimed at addressing lawsuits from local and Native American tribal governments. These entities accused the companies of exacerbating the opioid addiction epidemic.

This compensation, known as a common benefit fund, rewards law firms for their collective efforts on behalf of all plaintiffs involved in the litigation. U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, overseeing the extensive opioid litigation since 2017, has set a deadline of June 21 for firms to appeal the panel’s recommendations.

The settlements involve pharmaceutical giants like Johnson & Johnson, AbbVie, and Teva, distributors including Cencora, McKesson, and Cardinal Health, and pharmacy chains CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. However, these fees do not encompass the separate $6 billion settlement with Purdue Pharma, under scrutiny by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Combined opioid settlements, both national and state-specific, now surpass $50 billion. Despite this, many state and local governments have yet to finalize comprehensive plans for utilizing the funds to combat the opioid crisis’s impacts.

From 1999 through 2023, over 800,000 opioid overdose deaths have been reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The lawsuits argue that pharmaceutical companies downplayed the risks of opioids, while distributors and pharmacies overlooked signs of their diversion into illegal markets.

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