Terre Haute is joining a growing list of cities and other governments in taking distributors and manufacturers to court over the opioid epidemic.
The Board of Public Works and Safety Monday agreed to retain the Taft Stettinius and Hollister law firm to file suit on behalf of the city to recover costs incurred by the fire and police departments in responding to opioid overdoses.
Dozens of other cities in Indiana and elsewhere, including Chicago, Indianapolis, Muncie and Kokomo, and states such as Kentucky and Ohio have already gone to court and, in some cases, won settlements.
Because opioid medications are highly addictive, distributors are required to keep track of “where the drugs are going and why they're going there” to guard against a black market, said Tracy Betz, an attorney with the Taft firm's office in Indianapolis.
She compared the approach that used in the past against tobacco manufacturers, but class action lawsuits are not pursued.
“You are the plaintiff; you choose the claims that you want us to bring, the defendants you want us to sue,” she said.
The city will not incur any upfront costs and agreed to pay the law firm a contingency fee of 30 percent from any settlements or judgments.
The first cases on the city's behalf could be filed in U.S. District Court within the next two weeks, Betz said. Physicians are not being targeted, she added, saying that requires “a very different process. … One doctor couldn't cause it to explode like the distributors.”
A number of law firms are involved in opioid litigation, but the Taft firm was the first to reach out to the city and “demonstrate a good grasp and understanding of the issue,” City Attorney Eddie Felling said. He expressed hope Vigo County would also retain the firm because “there is somewhat of an overlay” of costs associated with the epidemic.