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Opioid-dependent babies could get left out of national settlement, lawyers say

Babies born with opioid dependency are in danger of being left behind from the massive national litigation that seeks to hold drug companies accountable for the addiction crisis, according to West Virginia lawyers who are renewing a push to move the cases from federal court in Cleveland to Charleston.

Attorneys for the opioid-dependent babies want their cases separated from the complex national lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors. More than 2,000 local governments are suing the drug companies, alleging they flooded the nation with powerful painkillers and downplayed the risk.

Since February, the babies’ cases have been lumped into the national litigation, which has been consolidated in federal court in Cleveland.

The babies’ lawyers say the most vulnerable victims of the opioid crisis have been left out of ongoing settlement talks, with the first of several trials set to begin Oct. 21.

The drug companies’ attorneys argue the opioid litigation must be kept in one courtroom for efficiency sake.

Charleston lawyer Booth Goodwin filed a motion this week asking a federal judge to send the opioid-dependent babies’ lawsuits back to Charleston.

The babies’ cases have stagnated in recent months while the local government lawsuits have progressed, Goodwin said in the filing.

He described the pace of the babies’ cases as “glacial.”

“Innocent babies are in real danger of being left behind as government entities seek recoveries that will spread far and wide,” Goodwin wrote to U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, in Cleveland. “The best place for this suit is back in the southern district of West Virginia.”

Legal experts have speculated an opioid settlement could rival the $240 billion tobacco settlements of the 1990s.

In previous statements, Polster has suggested it might make sense to carve out the babies’ cases from the massive national litigation. At a recent hearing, Polster remarked the two groups of plaintiffs — the local governments and the drug-dependent babies — were “dramatically different,” Goodwin’s motion noted.

The lawsuits brought by towns, cities and counties are trying to recoup money for damages caused by the opioid crisis, while the babies’ cases focus on “individual harm — how the individual was born addicted, from whom prescriptions were obtained, where the prescriptions were filled, and how legal prescriptions were diverted and contributed to the individual’s injuries,” Goodwin wrote.

In West Virginia, the state hit hardest by the opioid epidemic, about 5 percent of all babies are born dependent on opioids.

“Given the developmental nature of their injuries, time is of the essence for these children,” Goodwin said in his motion. “As these babies become children and young adults, the window for seeking remedial medical attention slams shut.”

Goodwin, a former federal prosecutor and 2016 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said his law firm, Goodwin & Goodwin, is evaluating nearly 200 cases of children — most from Southern West Virginia — who had withdrawal symptoms after being born to addicted mothers.

The defendants in the case include opioid makers like Purdue Pharma, and national distributors like McKesson and Cardinal Health.

Local government are seeking a settlement that will allow them to spend the funds any way they see fit. They could use settlement monies to plug budget holes, shore up pension funds, give pay raises to government employees or pave roads. And that would leave babies’ needs unmet.

“Children deserved individual treatment and individual recoveries, which address their individual harm,” Goodwin wrote.

Two other Charleston law firms — Calwell Luce diTrapano PLLC and the Law Offices of P. Rodney Jackson — are assisting Goodwin with the class-action lawsuit.

Funerals for Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Dotson, Jeffery - 7 p.m., Good Shepherd Mortuary, South Charleston.

Kees, Nancy - 11 a.m., Salem Road Freewill Baptist Church, Oak Hill.

Payne, Arless - 5 p.m., Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Taylor, Connie - 11 a.m., Memory Gardens, Low Gap.

Taylor, Joseph - 11 a.m., Gauley Bridge Baptist Church.

Williams, Nellie - 1 p.m., Pineview Cemetery, Orgas.

Yates, Ruth - 11:30 a.m., Sunset Memorial Park Mausoleum, South Charleston.