Top law firms in US opioid lawsuits to get hundreds of millions in fees

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) – A court-appointed panel on Friday recommended how to divvy up a pool of $2.13 billion in legal fees from nationwide drug industry settlements over the U.S. opioid crisis, with top firms set to receive hundreds of millions of dollars.

The panel gave national firm Motley Rice the largest share, with 18.6% of the funds, or $396 million. Other firms with large shares include New York-based Simmons Hanly Conroy, with 11.4%, or $244 million; California-based Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, with 8.2%, or $174 million; and California-based Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, with 5.65%, or $120 million.

The $2.13 billion fee pool comes out of settlements totaling more than $46 billion that drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies have reached to resolve lawsuit by local and Native American tribal governments accusing them of fueling an epidemic of opioid addiction.

The money was set aside as a so-called common benefit fund, to compensate law firms for work they did that benefited all of the plaintiffs in the litigation.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who has overseen the sprawling opioid litigation since 2017, also ruled Friday that firms have until June 21 to appeal the panel’s recommendations before they become final.

The fees stem from settlements with drugmakers Johnson & Johnson, AbbVie and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries; distributors Cencora, McKesson and Cardinal Health; and pharmacies CVS, Walgreens Boots Alliance and Walmart.

They do not include a settlement of up to $6 billion with bankrupt OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, which is funded by that company’s Sackler family owners in exchange for a shield from future lawsuits. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently weighing whether that settlement is legal.

Opioid settlements, including both the nationwide deals and separate agreements negotiated by individual states, now total well over $50 billion. However, many state and local governments have yet to develop detailed plans for how they will spend the money to remedy the harms caused by opioids.

More than 800,000 people died of opioid overdoses from 1999 through 2023, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Plaintiffs in the lawsuits say that drugmakers downplayed the drugs’ risks, and distributors and pharmacies ignored red flags that they were being diverted into illegal channels.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and David Gregorio)