Updated: March 25, 2019 10:42 PM
The Duluth and Superior city councils have both unanimously voted to file lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
The two cities will file separate lawsuits but are working together and sharing information and resources. Both will hire an outside law firm, Keller Lenkner out of Chicago, to represent them in the lawsuits.
Seth Meyer, an attorney with Keller Lenkner, explained that there are two objectives to the lawsuit: monetary damages and injunctive relief, which would aim to prevent opioid manufacturers and distributors from continuing to do the things that led to the opioid epidemic.
Meyer said pharmaceutical companies made a "calculated and highly financed effort" to expand the use of opioids. He said distributors have a duty to protect the pills.
"(The distributors) have to know where they're going. They have to know how many of them are going there, common precautions that you would assume moving something as dangerous as this is to avoid diversion. And effectively, they did not comply with those obligations," Meyer said.
The lawsuits don't come with any up-front costs. In Duluth, any money that comes out of it would be split. Two-thirds would go to the city, and one-third to Keller Lenkner and other legal firms working on the suit.
Duluth Assistant City Attorney Elizabeth Sellers said due to the complexity of these cases, a team with specialized knowledge is needed, which is why city staff want to hire outside counsel.
Meyer said Keller Lenkner has already filed a couple suits on behalf of cities in Idaho and will have soon file more on behalf of cities in Nevada and Idaho and now, Minnesota and Wisconsin too.
Cities and counties around the country have filed similar lawsuits, including St. Louis County and the Red Lake and Fond du Lac bands. Duluth would become the second city in Minnesota to file, following Minneapolis' lead.
For pre-trial purposes, all of the cases are going before an Ohio judge.
Meyer said there are potentially hundreds of billions of dollars in settlement money or winnings, but he said the allocation of that is a challenge that hasn't been worked out yet. For example, it could be allocated among the plaintiffs based on population or expenditure. According to Meyer, that remains to be worked out.
At meetings Monday night, Superior Mayor Jim Paine and Duluth Mayor Emily Larson individually urged city councilors to support the lawsuit.
"Somebody knew that this would cause harm to our communities, that this would do damage that we would never recover from....and they did it anyway," Paine said.
Superior City Attorney Frog Prell pointed to increases in healthcare costs and addiction treatment and a loss of productivity as direct effects the opioid epidemic has had on the city.
Larson pointed to an increase of calls to law enforcement, an increase in attorneys' caseloads and increased vandalism in Duluth park spaces as some of the many impacts.
"One of the reasons I am really -- I wouldn't say proud because it's not a proud moment to step into litigation like this. But one of the reasons I am glad we are prioritizing it is because of the human side and the human cost to this community," Larson said.
The lawsuits could be filed anytime now. Meyer said the sooner, the better, because some pharmaceutical companies are rumored to be preparing to declare bankruptcy.
The first case of this nature is scheduled to go to trial in October.
Updated: March 25, 2019 10:42 PM
Created: March 25, 2019 07:48 PM
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