Erie County Sues Drug Manufacturers

On February 1, Erie County filed a lawsuit against 11 major drug manufacturers and other companies. The suit accuses these companies of falsely advertising to doctors and patients that certain highly addictive prescription painkillers were safe. This led to hundreds of overdose deaths in Erie County. WBEN interviewed attorney Paul Cambria about the suit and how it might proceed. The full interview is available on the WBEN website.

Could become class action suit

Mr. Cambria gave WBEN his initial impression of the suit, saying, “I’m wondering whether or not individuals will try and join that and turn it into a class action.” He explained that, any time there is fraud or misrepresentation to another’s detriment, that person is injured and has the right to sue. “The County’s one thing, but individuals are the ones who suffer directly, so they should be able to form a class and sue as a class,” he said.

Physicians also named in suit

When asked if there is precedent for a case like this, Mr. Cambria responded, “There is and, in addition, the other thing that will be looked into is whether or not there were any incentives given by the drug companies to the physicians to prescribe these drugs. Any rewards or things like that are illegal with regard to physicians and health care workers, so I’m sure that will be an aspect of it.”

The suit also names four doctors and accuses them of accepting payment from drug makers to promote these painkillers to other physicians and mislead them about the prescriptions’ addictiveness. Mr. Cambria commented on that aspect of the suit, saying, “It’s a criminal violation as well as civil liability. In the past, we’ve had examples where the drug companies, not to give money directly to the doctors, would give them extra product—let’s say it’s a liquid product—give them extra product, which obviously allows them to turn that into money. There was a major criminal investigation by the federal authorities in the Northern District of New York concerning that and in Manhattan, as well.”

Further investigation and potential for large settlements

WBEN noted that the lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages. Mr. Cambria was asked if the plaintiffs could receive large sums of money from the case.

“Well, just think about the tobacco sale settlements,” he responded. “They turned out to be billions of dollars because of misrepresentations regarding addiction. […] At this point, they say unspecified because they won’t know until they’ve identified all the plaintiffs and they’ve determined the extent of the damage to each of the people.”

Mr. Cambria told WBEN that it’s possible that more individuals and municipalities could be added to the case, but that “the courts will be able to centralize it so they’re not going in different directions.” He added that the resolution to this case could take several years.

“It’ll be interesting to see if there are criminal investigations, not only to health care workers, but to people who work in the pharmaceutical industry who sell these drugs,” he said.

About Paul J. Cambria, Jr.

The chair of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area, Mr. Cambria advises clients on criminal trials, criminal appeals, constitutional and First Amendment law, zoning and land use, antitrust, and professional licensing defense. He divides his time between the firm’s offices in Buffalo and Los Angeles.