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City considering whether to join opioid lawsuit
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City officials are allowing an examination to determine if enough damage exists to warrant McMinnville’s inclusion in an opioid lawsuit.

Attorney Trevor Galligan, whose law firm of Galligan & Newman is seeking to represent Warren County government in a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, made a presentation to the city Finance Committee.

“We are looking at distributors and drug manufacturers as defendants,” said Galligan. “What we are proposing is not necessarily doctors, or pharmacists, or really anyone local. We are looking at distributors and drug manufacturers.”

The case would be filed in federal court and the claim would be for damages caused by negligence, false advertising, nuisance, unfair competition, consumer fraud, and false claims.

“They created fake science to convince doctors these drugs they are selling as not as addictive, not as difficult to get off of, and that they should prescribe longer amounts of the drug for routine surgeries,” said Galligan. “We know this was a concerted effort. They hired scientists with the intended goal of creating this science. A lot of good doctors out there, I believe, were unaware of how addictive these things are.”

While the firm asked Warren County commissioners to hire it to represent the government in a lawsuit, the request of the city is minimal in comparison.

“What we are asking for today is not necessarily for a contract or anything like that,” said Galligan. “I’ll be frank. I think most of the damages are probably with the county. I think, and Chief (Bryan) Denton would know this more than I would, there are probably some increased law enforcement costs that you have experienced because of opioids. What I’m asking today is that you allow us to investigate whether you have enough damages to make it worth pursuing.”

Galligan did inform aldermen that District Attorney Lisa Zavogiannis has contracted with a law firm to represent Warren and Van Buren counties in a similar lawsuit that would be filed in state court. However, said Galligan, a dispute exists if she can claim damages specifically for the governments within Warren County.

“The reason I’m sitting here today is because they didn’t file in the name of the city of McMinnville or Warren County. We also have a disagreement if they can pursue damages on behalf of those entities, but they think they can. I think that will become clear in the next few months. There is a case in Sullivan County, Tenn., and there are motions pending that will decide some of those issues. Again, I’m simply wanting to find out if the city has enough damages to make it worth your while to pursue.”

Alderman Everett Brock asked, “Is there any cost to us in any way, shape, form or fashion.”

Galligan & Newman would work on a contingency basis.

“If we find out that the district attorney is not able to pursue your damages and we believe you do have enough damages to make it worth while, what we would propose is a standard contingency fee agreement,” said Galligan. “We would front all the costs and if we don’t collect anything, we eat those costs. If we collect anything, we get our costs back and one-third of whatever you collect.”

Alderman Mike Neal took exception to not holding physicians accountable.

“Is there any reason why you can’t pursue people in the medical field? I think they bear some responsibility here too,” said Neal.

Brock added, “I was sort of the same way. If you tell a doctor that you have an opioid-based product but it won’t be addictive, I don’t know many stupid doctors there are when it comes to chemistry. It just seems to me a doctor would laugh at that type of statement. Whether it’s false advertising, or whatever, it seems to me if you are giving a guy heroin, which is another derivative of the same cloth, a doctor would say it’s going to be habit forming. I just can’t imagine what kind of advertising or science that they can come up with that would, all of a sudden, make an addictive product not addictive. It boggles my mind that doctors bought that, if they did.”

It’s easier, said Neal, to sue a big company located in another community rather than someone who lives and works in Warren County.

Patients who feel they were harmed by the negligence of a physician must pursue their own damages.

“If a patient came into my office with a tremendous amount of damages on an individual basis,” said Galligan, “and had a specific doctor who they are looking at, I would listen to their case. I just don’t have that.”

Finance Committee members agreed to engage the law firm to investigate causes of action and potential damages.

Alderman Ben Newman, committee member and attorney with Galligan & Newman, abstained from the vote.
Warren County Commissioners are slated to decide during February’s monthly session if they wish to hire the law firm to represent the county.