Hatfield: Settlement imminent in opioid lawsuit

·4 min read

Jun. 24—It's been nearly four years since Pulaski County Fiscal Court voted to join a class action lawsuit against several manufacturers and distributors of opioids.

On Tuesday, County Attorney Martin Hatfield advised the court that a settlement is on the horizon.

"There's starting to be some settlement negotiations mainly with the big three or four distributors of opioids," Hatfield explained. "I've been fortunate enough to be one of the two or three county attorneys in the state that's worked closely with our legal counsel."

Hatfield continued that while it's not always possible to recoup monies from such cases, "that won't be the case" this time due to the county's foresight.

"These three or four companies will agree to a global settlement across the United States because they want finality," Hatfield said, adding that current talks are pointing toward a joint $26 billion settlement.

The county attorney explained that a federal court will then decide how much goes to each state involved then those states will individually decide how much they keep and how much will go to their local governments.

"The agreement we reached through the Attorney General's office is that the state will get 50 percent of the settlement proceeds that come into Kentucky," Hatfield continued. "Local governments will get the other 50 percent. There's a formula as to what amount each local government will finally get."

Pulaski County's share is 1.183 percent. According to one document presented at Fiscal Court, that share ranks Pulaski no. 18 out of Kentucky's 120 counties.

"Some money will be paid up front and some of it will be paid over years," Hatfield explained, "but it's got to be used for basically abatement...You can't use it to fix potholes in roads. It's to be used to help the people in our community recover from this opioid epidemic."

The update came after a half-hour executive session to discuss property and pending litigation. To close out Tuesday's meeting, Hatfield asked Fiscal Court to approve a resolution regarding the settlement and authorize Judge-Executive Steve Kelley to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) by July 1.

"Hopefully the thought is that by sometime in early January of 2022, we may have our first payment from these three or four distributors," Hatfield said. "There should be others coming down the road, we hope."

Judge Kelley congratulated Hatfield for his hard work "behind the scenes" as the lawsuit progressed. "That's a good victory for all that we've been through," he said. "It's a little help."

"We appreciate all you do for us," District 5 Magistrate Mike Strunk added.

Strunk seconded a motion by District 4 Magistrate Mark Ranshaw to approve the resolution. Ranshaw also moved for Kelley's authorization to sign the MOU, which was seconded by District 1 Magistrate Jason Turpen. Both motions passed unanimously.

Pulaski County Fiscal Court's lawsuit was filed in September 2017 by Paul T. Farrell Jr. on behalf of a consortium of five law firms based in West Virginia, Florida, Texas and Mississippi that represent many communities nationwide.

The case was transferred from the U.S. District Court in London that December to Cleveland, Ohio, as part of a multi-district litigation (MDL) which has grown to include over 3,300 plaintiffs. The jurist presiding over MDL 2804, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, has divided the claims into "tracks" and is preparing for a trial involving Track Three, which only pertains to Lake and Trumbull counties in Ohio.

In the meantime, rather than waiting indefinitely for a shot at trial, Fiscal Court was preparing for the possibility of settlement. Last July, magistrates authorized Hatfield to submit a $131,785,036 proof of claim against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, which agreed in September 2019 to a $12 billion settlement over time but later filed bankruptcy.

The $131 million figure, Hatfield said at the time, represented past and future damages ranging from 2003 to 2040.

The drug manufacturer's latest plan, reported Tuesday by Reuters, still incorporates that proposed settlement which Purdue Pharma says is worth more than $10 billion to resolve the lawsuits brought by states, local governments and private individuals that led to its bankruptcy. As part of the framework, trusts will be set up to distribute funds to support opioid abatement programs across the country. Sackler family members who own the company say they will contribute $4.275 billion in exchange for protection against opioid-related litigation.

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