Palm Bay to file opioid lawsuit against Big Pharma
Rick Neale, FLORIDA TODAY
PALM BAY — Palm Bay is poised to become the first city in Florida to sue the opioid pain medication industry in state court, said Michael Kahn, a Melbourne lawyer.
Thursday, the Palm Bay City Council hired Kahn and his legal team to file a Brevard County Circuit Court lawsuit against Big Pharma. If the city prevails in a multi-year court fight, he said damages and costs could total in the tens of millions of dollars — if not hundreds of millions.
“We have a 250-page lawsuit that is going to go directly against target defendants who have hurt the population of Palm Bay, and others, with dispensing and falsely advertising these opioids,” Kahn said during a Monday interview in his office.
Palm Bay will litigate against the prescription opioid industry on grounds of public nuisance; violation of the Medicaid/social welfare law; Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act; fraud; unjust enrichment; negligence; negligent marketing; and negligent and misleading advertising.
The list of defendants includes Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals.
Kahn said his legal team — including prominent West Palm Beach attorney John Romano and law firms in Cleveland, Baltimore and Tallahassee — may file suit as early as Wednesday at the Moore Justice Center in Viera.
The lawyers will argue that the opioid epidemic has cost Palm Bay past and future damages for EMS, police, firefighters, facilities, public works, the city attorney’s office and other departments.
Kahn hopes to enlist other Space Coast cities and towns to join the cause, along with other Florida communities.
The city council accepted Kahn’s proposal by a 4-1 vote, with Deputy Mayor Tres Holton voting no. He instead supported Palm Bay’s earlier opioid-litigation agreement with the city’s lobbyist, Aventura attorney Ron Book. Kahn is on retainer with Palm Bay for various First Amendment-related issues.
At the federal level, hundreds of opioid lawsuits from communities across the United States are in the hands of a U.S. District Court judge in Cleveland.
Labeling opioids “a scourge,” Kahn told council members that Big Pharma is targeting and marketing drugs to elderly residents, who then face elevated fracture risks, increased risk of hospitalization, and respiratory problems. Also, he said prescription drug abuse — particularly narcotic pain pills — is skyrocketing among military veterans.
Palm Bay’s opioid litigation is patterned after “classic” personal injury lawsuits, Kahn said. The lawyers would not collect fees unless they prevail in court.
“The proceeds will be used to advertise, to do research, to do other things to counter the scourge of opioids that have been foisted on society by people just looking to make money off the purveyance of those drugs,” he said.
Councilman Jeff Bailey placed the action item to hire Kahn’s legal team on Thursday’s agenda.
“I do think (opioids) have affected a lot of families, and I know they’ve affected our public services. I’ve always been a watchdog for taxpayers, and I’m looking to collect something back from those that caused the harm,” Bailey said.
Palm Bay High graduate Jordin Chandler told council members before Thursday’s vote that he lost his mother to opioids two months ago. Kahn said she wasn’t an addict — rather, while she was hospitalized for a routine operation, she was administered opioids that suppressed her breathing
“Mayor, city council, the longer you wait the more lives are being taken, due to this crisis,” Chandler said. “You have the opportunity tonight to be trailblazers for justice. Answer the call to action. The time is now.”
Neale is South Brevard watchdog reporter at FLORIDA TODAY.
Contact Neale at 321-242-3638
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