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Tennessee Court of Appeals Holds that Drug Dealer Liability Act Lawsuit Can Proceed Against Opioid Manufacturers

The so-called “Opioid Epidemic” is big news these days, as more and more claims are being filed against the makers of pharmaceutical products like hydrocodone, oxycodone, oxymorphone, OxyContin, Roxicodone, and Opana by both individuals and government officials.

Here in Tennessee, several attorneys general have sought to assert claims against those who make these and other opioid drugs, but of course the manufacturers have done their best to resist these efforts if at all possible.

Earlier this month, the Tennessee Court of Appeals issued a decision in one such matter, holding that a case previously dismissed by a state court judge could go forward against certain pharmaceutical companies under a state statute that provides a civil remedy against those who participate in the illegal drug trade. If you or a loved one is suffering from the use of such medications, a Tennessee personal injury attorney may be able to determine whether you have a claim.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiffs were primarily district attorneys who sought to assert a cause of action against the defendant drug manufacturers and others under the Drug Dealer Liability Act, Tenn. Code Ann. ยง 29-38-101, -116, for injuries allegedly stemming from opioid drugs. Two minor children, through their guardian ad litem, also joined in the action as plaintiffs. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims.

The Circuit Court for Campbell County granting the motion, holding that the Act did not apply to manufacturers who lawfully produced drugs – only to those illegally involved in the drug trade – and that, thus, the plaintiffs had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

Decision of the Court

The Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings, holding that the plaintiffs had alleged enough in their complaint to survive the defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. According to the court of appeals, the defendants had failed in their efforts to show that there was no set of facts that could entitle the plaintiffs to the relief that they sought. While acknowledging that the manufacture of opioids was a legitimate endeavor and that there were perfectly sound medical applications for such drugs, the court’s interpretation of the Act was that a drug manufacturer could be held liable if it knowingly exceeded the boundaries of its regulated framework, as was alleged by the plaintiffs in the case at bar.

In so holding, the court rejected the defendants’ contention that they were exempt under the Act, noting that the plaintiffs’ complaint contained a “litany of allegations, some highly specific, as to [the defendants’] activities with regard to the diversion of opioids in Tennessee, as well as the destruction of communities caused by this diversion.”

Only time will tell whether the plaintiffs will ultimately prevail in their action, as the appellate court took no position as to whether the plaintiffs would be able to prove their allegations when the matter eventually proceeds to trial.

Speak to a Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney

At the Hartsoe Law Firm, our Tennessee personal injury attorneys help residents seek fair compensation for harm caused by the negligent and reckless conduct of corporations, governments, and individuals. To learn more about our services, call us at 865-524-5657 and request a free consultation to dismiss your situation. We serve Knoxville, Maryville, and the surrounding area.

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