Two Ohio counties have emerged from litigation victorious against CVS Pharmacies, Walgreens, and Walmart. The verdict, delivered on November 23, found the companies liable for contributing to the opioid epidemic.

According to a released verdict form, the jury delivered verdicts in favor of both Lake and Trumbull counties, finding that they had proven “by greater weight of the evidence, that oversupply of legal prescription opioids, and diversion of those opioids into the illicit market outside of appropriate medical channels is public nuisance.”

Additionally, the jury also found that CVS Pharmacies, Walgreens, and Walmart, “engaged in intentional and/or illegal conduct which was a substantial factor in producing the public nuisance.”

This verdict strikes at the core of the issues at play in these trials: whether pharmacies can be found liable for creating a public nuisance by recklessly dispensing opioids to the public in alarming quantities. This verdict has now set the stage for sentencing which could result in as much as $1 billion in fines allocated to each county in order to abate the toll of the opioid crisis, according to Law360

This verdict comes as an upset to a streak of losses that counties have suffered across the nation. The Trumbull and Lake county verdict is part of a series of bellwether trials designed to test the viability of lawsuits against regional and national pharmacies for their alleged role in fueling the opioid epidemic. 

This trial set many new precedents, including:

  • New applications of public nuisance law
  • The first lawsuit of an MDL targeting pharmacies as opposed to distributors or manufacturers of opioids
  • The first trial of this kind to be decided by a jury
  • The first lawsuit of the MDL that produced a verdict

These novel precedents are some of the many points that Walmart, CVS Pharmacies, and Walgreens are using to appeal the decision. Walmart declared that the entire trial “was engineered to favor the plaintiffs' attorneys and was riddled with remarkable legal and factual mistakes.”

Walgreens stated that the case was based on “a flawed legal theory that is inconsistent with Ohio law,” while CVS noted it is looking forward to an appeals court’s review of “the misapplication of public nuisance law.”