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Pennsylvania Opioid Settlement

After more than six years, most of Pennsylvania’s opioid lawsuits have reached their conclusion. Back in February 2022, four of the largest U.S. manufacturers of highly addictive opioids agreed to a $26 billion global settlement with 46 U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, to resolve hundreds of lawsuits filed by state and local governments seeking compensation for the costs of dealing with the resulting opioid crisis. This is the second-largest civil settlement in Pennsylvania history, according to the state attorney general’s office.

Delaware County, Pennsylvania–represented by Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky P.C. partner Patrick Howard–was the first local government in the Commonwealth to file an opioid lawsuit. As a result, the numerous cases filed throughout the state were consolidated in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas. On December 14, 2023, Delaware County Judge Barry Dozor approved an award of $28.4 million in contingency fees between Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky and 10 other firms for their work in the consolidated litigation. These firms will then use some of this money to compensate a number of other firms who also represented plaintiffs in the consolidated opioid lawsuits.

Howard told that this was actually the first of two decisions regarding legal fees. He said the court would issue a second determination this year with regard to “common benefit fees.” These fees are paid only to those law firms that actively participated in the litigation.

Howard also noted that there were still some Pennsylvania opioid lawsuits that had yet to be resolved. The $26 billion settlement covered opioid manufacturers. Attorneys are currently finalizing a second, separate settlement to cover pharmacies and other drug companies. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office also continues to pursue litigation against a number of opioid developments outside of the settlements. But as Howard noted, “I would say about 95 percent of the Commonwealth’s litigation is over.”

How Delaware County Benefits from the Opioid Settlements

The $26 billion master settlement is not simply divided among the participating states equally or even in proportion to their respective populations. Rather, the settlement is structured to provide more money to those states and localities that were most affected by the opioid crisis. And in some cases, individual cities or counties may receive a higher share of their state’s settlement because they were more active in pursuing the litigation.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office estimates the Commonwealth’s share of the master settlement will exceed $1 billion. This is not, however, a lump-sum settlement. The opioid manufacturers will make payments over the next 18 years. During the first round of distributions, which took place in 2022, Pennsylvania’s local governments received about $86 million in payments.

Tom VanKirk, who oversees Pennsylvania’s opioid settlement trust, told WESA and Spotlight PA in October 2023 that there were several factors examined in determining how much in funds each of the Commonwealth’s 67 counties will receive. These factors included the number of drug overdose deaths reported in the county, as well as the number of opioid-related hospitalizations and the total amount of opioids dispensed. Spotlight PA added, however, that each Pennsylvania county will receive at least $1 million over the 18-year distribution period.

Because of its lead role in Pennsylvania’s opioid litigation, Delaware County will receive a higher share than it would have otherwise received based on its opioid-related need. In August 2023, the Delaware County Council and the Delaware County Opioid Task Force approved the distribution of $6,451,452 in funds from the first round of opioid settlement payments. The County expected to receive approximately $63 million during the 18-year life of the master settlement.

The County Opioid Task Force is charged with recommending uses of the settlement funds to the County Council. The August 2023 grants included:

  • $1,5000,000 to the American Treatment Network
  • $1,137,286 to the Delaware County Health Department
  • $861,640 to MVP Recovery
  • $625,629 to Mirmont Treatment Center
  • $537,000 to Savage Sisters Recovery, Inc.
  • $400,900 to Saint Joseph’s University
  • $243,958 to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • $173,098 to the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Addiction Medicine and Policy
  • $150,132 to the Community Action Agency
  • $146,419 to Widener University
  • $129,310 to the Shevlin Family Foundation
  • $108,729.74 to Multicultural Community Family Services
  • $100,000 to Nemours Children’s Health
  • $81,010 to Merakey , a non-profit provider of developmental, behavioral health, and education services
  • $66,500 to the Pennsylvania Institute of Technology

Delaware County is scheduled to receive its next round of $4.1 million in settlement funds in 2024. The County is accepting requests for proposals from organizations that wish to use a portion of these funds. The County Council is expected to consider these requests sometime in February 2024.

Why Settle and Not Litigate?

A common question people ask about the opioid settlements is why settle at all. Given how well-documented the opioid crisis is in the United States, why would Delaware County and the other local governments not seek an even higher award by going to trial?

As the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office explained in a 2021 Fact Sheet regarding the master settlement, there is never any guarantee when it comes to litigation. At the time of the master settlement, no trial dates had been set in any of the Pennsylvania opioid lawsuits. There was no guarantee the counties would win those trials. And even if they did, the defendants could have kept any judgment tied up for years on appeal.

In contrast, the master settlement guarantees that Delaware County and other Pennsylvania counties have immediate access to funds that can be used to provide treatment and support services for those continuing to suffer from opioid addiction.It is also important to understand that most large class actions of this kind are settled out of court. Indeed, Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky P.C. has helped secure millions of dollars in a number of class action settlements on behalf of our clients. So if you need to speak with an experienced Delaware County class action attorney, call us today at (610) 627-9777 or contact us online to schedule a free case evaluation.

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