Oklahoma High Court Tosses $465M Opioid Verdict Against J&J

Oklahoma High Court Tosses $465M Opioid Verdict Against J&J a johnson and johnson logo on an iphone on a blue table (Mohamed Ahmed Soliman/Dreamstime)

By Jeffrey Rodack | Tuesday, 09 November 2021 01:17 PM

The Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned a $465 million opioid ruling Friday against Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries.

The court, in a 5-1 decision, said the pharmaceutical giant should not have been found liable for the state's opioid crisis under Oklahoma's public nuisance law, according to The Oklahoman.

Oklahoma had sued Johnson & Johnson, claiming the company brought on the opioid crisis in the state, according to KFOR news.

Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman in 2019 had ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $465 million to the state. His decision came after a nonjury trial.

"We hold that the district court's expansion of public nuisance law went too far," the majority opinion states. "Oklahoma public nuisance law does not extend to the manufacturing, marketing, and selling of prescription opioids."

"The court has allowed public nuisance claims to address discrete, localized problems, not policy problems," says the opinion written by Justice James Winchester.

"J&J no longer promotes any prescription opioids and has not done so for several years," since 2015, Winchester wrote, according to The Associated Press. "Even with J&J's marketing practices these … medications amounted to less than 1% of all Oklahoma opioid prescriptions."

Justice James Edmondson, writing in dissent, said he would uphold the verdict but send the case back to district court to recalculate the damages award.

From 2007 to 2017, more than 4,600 people in Oklahoma died from opioid overdoses, the AP said, attributing the data to state statistics.

Representatives for the Oklahoma attorney general, John O'Connor, nor for J&J did not immediately respond to a request from AP for comment.