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Opioids: Can product liability laws make companies pay?

Years ago, no one would have ever dreamed that tobacco companies would ever have to pay up for the health crisis caused by cigarettes.

Could those same principals, based off of product liability laws, eventually hold the makers of drugs like OxyContin and other opioids responsible for the public health crisis created by their products?

It may be a big stretch, legally. While there's a general agreement that manufacturers of some of the more popular opioids on the market downplayed the addictive nature of the drugs -- especially with long-term use -- the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversaw the legalization and distribution of the drugs, making them legal products.

Product liability laws have some unique rules when it comes to pharmaceuticals:

  • Some drugs simply cannot be designed in a way that is 100 percent safe. The company may know that -- but the potential benefits for the people who need the drugs outweigh the risks.
  • Drug companies still have the duty to warn potential users that serious adverse reactions are possible -- including all known dangers. Addiction might be considered an adverse reaction.
  • Even if an adverse reaction isn't known at first, drug companies still have the same duty to let doctors know about the newly-discovered reactions as they are found.
  • It's hard to determine who exactly holds the liability in drug cases for a bad reaction since anyone in the pipeline from maker to consumer can be potentially liable -- that's a lot of possible defendants involved -- including doctors who were genuinely doing what they thought was best for their patients.

In the end, however, the goal may not be to win the lawsuit but to get the major manufacturers to settle out of court so that the money from the settlements can be poured into programs to help the numerous victims that are suffering from opioid addiction and lack the resources to get treatment.

If you've been the victim of a drug that was improperly marketed or pushed on you without adequate warning of known side effects, an attorney who handles cases involving dangerous and defective products can help you understand your right to compensation.

Source:, "Opioids On Trial: Can Lawsuits Help Fix The Addiction Crisis?," Oct. 02, 2017

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