Opioid Litigation: What's New and What Does It Mean for Future Litigation?

A fentanyl user displays a "safe supply" of opioid alternatives, including morphine pills, provided by the local health unit in Vancouver, Canada, April 6, 2020, photo by Jesse Winter/Reuters

Photo by Jesse Winter / Reuters


Thursday, October 22, 2020


12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET / 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. PT


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The growing public health crisis of the opioid epidemic has claimed the lives of over 450,000 Americans since 1999. Amid claims that the pharmaceutical industry used misleading tactics to downplay the known harms of prescription opioids, more than 2,000 plaintiffs have now joined the largest civil trial in U.S. history: National Prescription Opiate Litigation (MDL 2804).

Aggregate litigation can provide an efficient method to resolve disputes involving multiple parties. And as society and technology continue to evolve, so do legal responses to mass harms. The RAND Institute for Civil Justice (ICJ) and the RAND Kenneth R. Feinberg Center for Catastrophic Risk Management and Compensation (Feinberg Center) have assembled a distinguished group of attorneys, judges, and scholars to discuss the opioid litigation and its impacts on the future of mass litigation. Why is the opioid litigation different? What might these differences mean for the future? What further research is needed to address these new challenges?

Join our experts including Sheila Birnbaum (Partner, Dechert LLP), Deborah Hensler (Judge John W. Ford Professor of Dispute Resolution, Stanford Law School), and Kenneth R. Feinberg (Founder and Managing Partner, The Law Offices of Kenneth R. Feinberg, PC) for this virtual symposium as we address these questions and more.

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All times are Eastern Daylight Time

12:00 p.m.
Introduction and Welcoming Remarks
  • James Anderson, Director, RAND Institute for Civil Justice
12:05 p.m.
What Makes the Opioid Litigation Different from Other Mass Torts?
There is a broad consensus that the opioid litigation represents a departure from previous mass litigation, but precisely why is considerably more contentious. This panel will discuss the unique aspects of the opioid litigation including the use of public nuisance doctrine, RICO statutes, and the inclusion of cities and counties as fourth-party litigants. More generally, the panel will consider how the opioid litigation differs from previous efforts to address widespread harms such as the tobacco litigation, manufacturer liability for gun violence, and lead paint litigation.
  • Moderator:
    Rebecca Haffajee, Policy Researcher, RAND Corporation
  • Discussion Panel:
    Charlie Lifland, Partner, O’Melveny & Myers LLP
  • David Nachman, Attorney, Office of New York Attorney General
  • Christopher A. Seeger, Founding Partner, Seeger Weiss LLP
1:15 p.m.
1:25 p.m.
What’s the Next Opioids?
Although the opioid litigation has yet to be resolved, many insurers, corporations, attorneys and judges are already concerned about “the next opioids”. This panel will address how the legal innovations discussed in the previous panel might play out going forward. What does the future look like for environmental torts and other public health litigation such as climate change or sugar sweetened beverages? The panel will also examine how opioid litigation may change the way in which litigation can be used in the future to address widespread social harms.
  • Moderator:
    Eric Helland, Economist, RAND Corporation; William F. Podlich Professor of Economics and George R. Roberts Fellow
  • Discussion Panel:
    Anne Andrews, Managing Partner, Andrews & Thornton
  • Rich Ives, Vice President – Claims, Travelers Insurance
  • Daniel B. Levin, Partner, Munger, Tolles & Olson
  • Robert Reville, Chief Executive Officer, Praedicat
  • Joseph F. Rice, Founding Member, Motley Rice
2:55 p.m.
3:05 p.m.
How Can Research Help Inform the Policy Debate over Opioid-Like Litigation?
Objective, empirical research is critical to providing decisionmakers with the data needed to shape debates across a range of civil legal controversies. However, much of the debate surrounding the opioid MDL has focused on the legal doctrines rather than the future policy implications for litigation addressing large-scale social harms. This panel will explore what research might help policymakers, both inside and outside the courts, to assess the impact of the opioid litigation on public policy and what data is needed to further that research.
  • Moderator:
    Deborah Hensler, Judge John W. Ford Professor of Dispute Resolution, Stanford Law School
  • Discussion Panel:
    Sheila Birnbaum, Partner, Dechert LLP
  • Elizabeth J. Cabraser, Partner, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
  • Kenneth R. Feinberg, Founder and Managing Partner, The Law Offices of Kenneth R. Feinberg, PC
  • William Rubenstein, Bruce Bromley Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
3:45 p.m.
Closing Remarks
4:00 p.m.