LYNNFIELD — The town is retaining a Connecticut law firm for a potential class action suit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
“On behalf of the board of selectmen, I began to investigate national, state, and local litigation against major opioid manufacturers in the United States,” said Town Administrator Robert Dolan.
State Attorney General Maura Healey and a number of municipalities are joining in a lawsuit attempting to hold the companies accountable for many issues, including the cost to local governments as a result of their actions, Dolan said.
Selectmen approved Town Counsel Thomas Mullen’s recommendation that the town retain the Connecticut-based firm of Scott & Scott for a potential class action suit against the opioid pharmaceutical companies.
“I’ve received a number of solicitations from law firms for the towns I represent,” said Mullen. “Frankly, I’ve been leery to get involved. First, because I am not familiar with the out-of-state law firms that control the litigation, and second, because lawyers who specialize in plaintiff class action suits are generally an unsavory crew.”
But Mullen said there were several factors that lifted Scott & Scott well above the typical “unsavory crew.”
He noted that Scott & Scott have worked with the Boston-based firm of Anderson & Krieger, a well-regarded firm that specializes in municipal work.
Scott & Scott is representing cities in five states with pending opioid legislation, including Springfield, Worcester, and Haverhill in Massachusetts.
“Their theory of the case is that manufacturers and distributors, knowing the dangers of addiction, promoted among doctors the idea of opioids as routine pain relievers rather than the extreme end of life cancer medication that it had been,” said Mullen. “This led to a crisis that our town and many others across the country are suffering from.”
Tactically, Mullen said Scott & Scott wants to avoid the federal courts, where hundreds of cases have been consolidated before a single judge in Ohio who is urging a quick settlement and refusing to move the cases along.
“They want to file in the state courts so they can control the litigation,” Mullen said.
The offer from Scott & Scott appears to be risk free, with a pure contingent fee arrangement, said Mullen. The firm would take 22.5 percent of any recovery from the pharmaceutical companies as a fee. If there was not any recovery, the firm would forgive all expenses.
“The worst case scenario for the town is zero, it’s not negative,” said Mullen. “I like the idea of an aggressive and active posture. I would not recommend a firm that would want to park our case in Ohio and take a cut of whatever negotiation there is without working on it.”
When asked by selectmen about expectations of what the town could get through a settlement, Mullen was hesitant to throw out a dollar figure. But, he said any settlement that could potentially pay for some kind of employee in the schools working on drug and addiction issues would be a huge win for the town.
Mullen said Scott & Scott would look to file a lawsuit in state court this year, possible within the next few months.
“I honestly don’t see any reason that we wouldn’t want to be part of this,” said Selectman Phil Crawford. “There is only an upside for the town.”