Oklahoma’s Supreme Court overturned a $465 million public nuisance judgment against Johnson & Johnson (J&J) on Tuesday. The earlier ruling from a lower court blamed the company for the opioid crisis.
The court ruled that J&J was not liable for a public nuisance because it had no control over its products after it sold them to distributors and wholesalers.
“This case challenges us to rethink traditional notions of liability and causation,” Justice James R. Winchester wrote in the opinion. “The court has allowed public nuisance claims to address discrete, localized problems, not policy problems.”
The court also rejected Oklahoma’s effort to increase the $465 million fine, which the state said was insufficient to address the harm done, the AP reported.
Winchester also pointed out that J&J sold only 3% of all prescription opioids in the state. The other 97% were sold by other pharmaceutical manufacturers.
More than 4,600 people in Oklahoma died of opioid overdoses from 2007 to 2017, according to the AP. These deaths include overdoses from illegal opioids, including fentanyl. Overdose deaths hit a record high of over 93,000 in the U.S. in 2020, accounting for the majority of American overdose deaths. The New York Times reports the opioid death toll as 500,000.
Purdue Pharma, another pharmaceutical giant, was dissolved in September in a bankruptcy settlement involving the company’s role in the opioid crisis.
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