Ward County to decide on joining opioid lawsuit

Ward County to make decision on joining class action

Jill Schramm/MDN Curt Olafson speaks to the Ward County Commission Tuesday about entering an opioid lawsuit.

Ward County commissioners plan to make a decision later regarding the joining of a class action lawsuit against manufacturers of opioid medications. They heard details about the opportunity Tuesday.

Former legislator Curtis Olafson of Edinburg met with commissioners, who also spoke with lawsuit attorney Jonathan Novak in Dallas, who is a former prosecutor with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. Several North Dakota counties and a few cities have joined the national lawsuit, which is being heard in federal court in Ohio. Ward County had not joined, preferring to wait on the North Dakota Attorney General’s participation in a lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company, but that lawsuit was dismissed by the judge.

“There is no Attorney General in the nation that has the resources or the staff with the experience and expertise to tackle this complex and massive a lawsuit. It’s just beyond the capability of any Attorney General in the country. That’s one of the reasons why about a dozen attorneys general around the country have signed on to firms I represent,” said Olafson, who represents a legal consortium.

Olafson said cities and counties have the greatest degree of damages because they are the ones impacted through law enforcement and social services. Modeling tools are used to determine damages for individual cities and counties, which are part of determining per capita award amounts from any settlement.

There is no work burden or cost to Ward County should commissioners sign onto the lawsuit, and the county is indemnified through the law firms against liability from any potential counter lawsuit. The settlement covers costs and attorney fees. The attorney fee declines as the amount of the award increases but would not exceed 25% on a $2 million award. The percentage begins declining at that point and can go as low as 5% on a $10 million award.

Olafson noted the lawsuit targets manufacturers and not pharmacists or medical providers.

“The drug manufacturers had convinced the medical community and the consumers that these drugs were safe and and were not addictive,” Olafson said.

The class action litigation has been going on for a number of years already, and settlements are expected before long to avoid a trial, he said.

“Opioid lawsuits are on par to become the largest civil litigation agreement in U.S. history,” he said. “Projections are that this will bypass significantly the master tobacco settlement agreement, BP oil spill, Takata airbags, you can go on and on.”

Olafson urged the commission not to wait to get a share of any settlement made with the state because the state is likely to pass along a much smaller share than would be received in an individual settlement through a class action lawsuit.

“Our consortium is best positioned to bring about the most favorable settlement for clients,” he said.

The Motley Rice, Ferrer Poirot Wansbrough & Fears Machawati consortium includes firms based in Texas and North Carolina. The consortium’s North Dakota counsel is attorney and former legislator Mac Schneider, Fargo.

The commission put the matter on hold to give the State’s Attorney’s Office time to review the information and make a recommendation.