Default judgment awarded in Sullivan County Baby Doe opioid case

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BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — A judge has granted a default judgment against a pharmaceutical company in the Sullivan County Baby Doe lawsuit.

“Baby Doe really stands in for all in a sense for all the drug-addicted babies that have suffered as a result of opioid overuse, overdistribution, and abuse,” said Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus. “Our damages are not just for Baby Doe but for all the damages that occurred as a direct proximate or indirect result of the actions of the pharmaceutical company.”

In a ruling filed Tuesday in Sullivan County Circuit Court, Chancellor E.G. Moody determined Endo Pharmaceuticals is liable for $2.4 billion damages sought. However, the court has reserved issuing a final judgment on that amount.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Staubus said. “We filed this lawsuit over three years ago and the goal all along was to get this case before a jury and let the citizens of Sullivan County determine if the drug companies were liable and if so, how much? Our allegations were that they knew that they were flooding the market, they knew what was happening here, they continued to say that these drugs weren’t harmful, they weren’t addictive, and that they didn’t have an addictive component to them and they continued to make profits.”

Tuesday’s ruling mentions 12 false statements and a “clear record of delay or contumacious conduct” by Endo’s counsel.

“The Court finds that this was part of a coordinated strategy between Endo and its counsel to delay these proceedings, deprive Plaintiffs of information that would support their case, and interfere with the administration of justice,” the ruling states.

The attorneys say damages sought could be any situation that occurred as a result of the opioid crisis such as drug-addicted babies, the need for rehabilitation, and children that are going to school that has Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, that is struggling with impulse control, and other learning disabilities as a result of a drug-addicted mother.

“It would also include economic costs criminal justice costs, various costs that were incurred by the citizens of Sullivan County, whether that’s someone that died of an overdose, someone who got addicted and lost everything or a drug-addicted child or the other costs associated with rehabilitation or economic costs,” Staubus said.

The Baby Doe lawsuit was filed in 2017 by local district attorneys general against three pharmaceutical companies for their alleged role in the region’s opioid abuse epidemic. The suit listed a baby born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, Baby Doe, as a plaintiff.

“This will be the first [Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome] baby case to go to trial and it will go to trial on damages and it is also going to be the first damages assessment by a jury against anyone involved in the opioid industry,” said lead trial attorney Gerard Stranch. “It sends a strong message to the other manufacturers, and distributors and retail pharmacies that they can’t play games in discovery and they can’t play games to delay things and to try to buy more time to hide their conduct.”

Endo remained the only remaining corporate defendant in the case after the two other pharmaceutical companies declared bankruptcy. Stranch says the company pushed Opana ER or oxymorphone, a brand-name narcotic.

“75% of the reported abuse of Opana ER in the country occurred within the state of Tennessee. They literally were killing Tennesseans and addicting Tennesseans at a rate that no other state in the country was experiencing,” said Stranch. “Tennessee had more deaths and…more reported adverse events from Opana than the entire rest of the country combined.”

There is a status hearing at 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon where Staubus will ask for the case to go to trial in front of a jury in Sullivan County.

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