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Infants Hurt by Opioids Stated a Claim Under Tennessee Drug Dealer Liability Act

In a Knoxville product liability lawsuit, one of the first considerations is whether the plaintiff has “standing” to sue. Standing is a legal concept that simply means a litigant must have a sufficient enough connection to the action at issue to support that party’s participation in the case.

If a party lacks standing, there is no reason for the case to move forward. The courts are busy enough without entertaining cases that would clearly be a waste of judicial economy.

Of course, opinions can vary on the issue of standing, just as they can on many other issues that arise during the litigation process. Like other decisions involving whether a case should move forward, there is the possibility of an appeal if one party is disgruntled with the trial court’s ruling on standing.

Facts of the Case

In a recent state supreme court case, the plaintiffs included not only several district attorneys general suing in their official capacities on behalf of various political subdivisions of the State of Tennessee but also two unnamed infants (“Baby Doe #1 and Baby Doe #2) who were born in east Tennessee and allegedly suffered neonatal abstinence syndrome because of their mothers’ usage of opioids during pregnancy. Several pharmaceutical companies were named as defendants in the lawsuit, which asserted claims under the Tennessee Drug Dealer Liability Act (codified at Tennessee Code Annotated §§ 29-38-101 to -116) as well as claims based on the defendants’ alleged involvement in “fueling addiction to prescription opioid medications,” which in turn allegedly led to the over-prescription, over-distribution, and diversion of originally legal medications into the illegal street drug market.

The defendants moved for dismissal of the plaintiffs’ complaint on the grounds that the attorneys general lacked standing to sue and that the complaint failed to state a claim for relief. The trial court granted the motion, but the intermediate appellate court reversed. This led to an additional appeal to the state’s highest court.

The Court’s Decision

The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the intermediate appellate court’s decision, holding that, although the attorneys general lacked standing to sue under the Act because they were not included thereunder as parties who could sue, the babies did have standing and had stated a case against the drug companies under the Act. In so holding, the court pointed out that, at the current stage of the litigation, the court had a duty to accept all of the babies’ allegations as true when determining whether they had stated a viable cause of action. Should the matter proceed to a jury trial on remand, the babies would have the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendants had participated in the illegal drug market in order for their case to be successful.

Schedule a Legal Consultation

If you have been hurt by a dangerous or defective product, including medical devices and pharmaceutical products, you may have the right to pursue compensation for losses such as pain and suffering, medical expenses, disability, and lost wages. At the Hartsoe Law Firm, we can help you determine the likelihood of success of a case against a particular maker, seller, or marketer of the product that caused your injury. To schedule a free consultation of your Knoxville product liability case, call us at 865-524-5657 or contact us through this website.

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