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Lawyers for tiniest victims of opioid crisis want their time in court

Attorneys want babies removed from national suit
Posted: 6:27 PM, Nov 29, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-29 18:27:56-05

A handful of attorneys are trying to make sure the tiniest victims of the opioid crisis have their voice heard in court. 

Right now, a Cleveland federal judge is handling a massive nationwide lawsuit, as government agencies, hospitals and insurance companies take on the pharmaceutical industry.

"At last count, there was something along the lines of 1,400 or 1,500 different individual cases they had all been sent to Cleveland," said Andrew Pollis, Case Western Reserve University law professor.

Among those suing several big drug makers, families with children born dependent on opioids.

On Thursday, the legal team representing the babies requested their lawsuits be heard separately.

"They can't walk yet, they can't talk yet, they did nothing wrong," said Pollis.

Children, potentially facing a lifetime of medical problems.

"They didn't ask to be conceived, they didn't ask to be conceived to an opioid-addicted mother," said Pollis.

Thirteen class action lawsuits, all of the plaintiff’s babies, clumped together with hundreds of other cases from across the country.

Cleveland judge, Dan Polster is handling pre-trial for the multidistrict litigation.

"Judge Polster is very vigorously pushing for the parties to try and settle so that none of them will have to go to trial," said Pollis.

Attorneys for opioid-dependent babies asked a panel of judges in New York to break out their cases and hear them all together, creating a new multidistrict litigation.

"The lawyers who represent the babies certainly believe that the cases that they have against the opioid manufacturers, the pharma companies are much easier to push through the system," said Pollis.

Pollis told News 5 that cities, counties, hospitals and insurance companies will have a harder time recouping money spent to tackle the opioid crisis.

"It's easier for the babies to win because they have an easier case," said Pollis.

Lawyers pushing for their own case want to create trust funds for the babies to cover the costs of continued medical monitoring and treatment.

They believe this move will guarantee a bigger piece of the payout from the pharmaceutical companies, which are currently fighting the request.

"If you're big pharma, the fewer fronts on which you have to defend the better," said Pollis.

In all the lawsuits, Pollis expects those companies to argue opioids are effective and helpful when used as intended.

"Certainly, they are going to hang their hats on the FDA approval of the drugs," said Pollis.

It will be a couple of weeks before the panel of judges rules on whether the babies' cases will be split off from the ones here in Cleveland.

Meantime, they have encouraged the attorneys representing pharmaceutical companies to start negotiating with the families.

News 5 reached out to a couple of the companies facing lawsuits and we did not hear back.