Trials & Litigation

Oops! Judge mistakenly added three zeroes to part of opioid award

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An Oklahoma judge who ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million for its role in the state’s opioid epidemic admitted in court on Tuesday that he made a $107 million math error.

Judge Thad Balkman of Cleveland County said the portion of the award devoted to a treatment program for addicted babies should have been $107,683, not $107,683,000. The Oklahoman and the Associated Press have coverage.

“That will be the last time I use that calculator,” Balkman said.

Balkman will correct the error in an upcoming ruling that will also address other legal issues that could change the award amount, according to the Oklahoman.

Lawyers for Johnson & Johnson are seeking a reduction of an additional $355 million to reflect settlements reached with other drug companies before the trial.

Lawyers for the state, on the other hand, point out that the verdict was intended to cover just one year of costs to address the opioid epidemic. They want the judge to maintain continuing jurisdiction so that more money could be added to the judgment each year.

Balkman’s August decision was the first to hold a drugmaker responsible for the opioid epidemic after a trial. Balkman had found J&J liable for contributing to a marketing campaign with a message that pain was being undertreated and prescription opioids carried a low risk of abuse.

The award was based on Oklahoma’s unusual public nuisance law, which defines a public nuisance as an unlawful act or omission that injures or endangers the comfort, health or safety as others.

Johnson & Johnson had argued that there cannot be a nuisance because property wasn’t affected. That appears to be the case in other states, Balkman ruled in August, but not in Oklahoma.

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