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Tennessee Court of Appeals Allows Major Opioid Lawsuit to Proceed


In 2017, a group of Tennessee district attorneys sued a number of opioid manufacturers under the Drug Dealer Liability Act (DDLA). This is a state law that authorizes a court to award civil damages against any “person who knowingly participates in the illegal drug market” to the detriment of the community. Individual victims, as well as their parents or other family members, may seek compensation under the DDLA.

Court: Law Does Not Distinguish Between “Street Dealers” and Regulated Companies

The district attorneys’ lawsuit alleges that Purdue Pharma and other defendants worked to “create,” “sustain,” and profit from a market for illegal opioids in Tennessee. The lawsuit said there were nearly 12 million opioid prescriptions issued in Tennessee during a 2-year period between 2015 and 2017. And while Purdue was required to monitor and report any suspicious prescriptions to the federal regulators, the lawsuit alleges the company instead “used the data to identify physicians who prescribed some opioids and might be persuaded to prescribe more.”

Before a Circuit Court judge in Campbell County, Purdue and the other defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit on two grounds. First, they argued the district attorneys lacked standing to bring a lawsuit under the DDLA. Second, they argued the law itself only applies to “street dealers” of illegal drugs and not companies that manufacture and distribute regulated drugs like the opioids at issue in this case.

The trial judge granted the motion to dismiss. But the Court of Appeals reversed and said the lawsuit could proceed. First, the appeals court said the DDLA does contain a provision authorizing a district attorney to “represent the state or a political subdivision of the state” in a civil lawsuit. While this could mean the district attorneys are only allowed to serve as counsel to a DDLA lawsuit filed by the political leadership of state or subdivision, it can also mean that prosecutors are allowed to “exercise their own, independent discretion” to bring a claim. The appeals court said the latter interpretation made more sense in light of the DDLA’s broad “remedial purpose.”

As for the merits of the lawsuit, the Court of Appeals rejected the notion that the law only creates civil liability for “street dealers” of illegal narcotics. “The common perception of a drug dealer may be that of the street dealer,” the Court observed, “but the DDLA does not make that distinction.” Indeed, the lawsuit here alleges the defendants “knowingly” exceeded the “boundaries of its regulated framework” in over-prescribing opioids.

Contact a Tennessee Opioid Lawsuit Attorney Today

The Court of Appeals’ decision is an important step forward in the fight to hold opioid manufacturers accountable for the untold suffering they have inflicted upon thousands of Tennessee residents. If your family has been affected by this epidemic and you would like legal advice from a qualified Tennessee opioid lawsuit attorney, contact Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, today to schedule a free consultation.




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