A California judge cleared four drugmakers of liability after a monthslong trial accusing the companies, including Johnson & Johnson
and Endo International PLC
of causing widespread opioid addiction in the state.
The ruling, issued late Monday in Superior Court in Orange County, is a rare win for drug companies that make and distribute prescription painkillers in yearslong litigation seeking to blame them for the opioid epidemic.
The California lawsuit, filed in May 2014, was one of the first of thousands of similar actions filed by states, local governments and Native American tribes. The litigation broadly alleges that drugmakers manufactured powerful painkillers too broadly and that distributors didn’t do enough to halt shipments that went beyond communities’ medical needs.
The governments have been seeking to win money to use on social services to address the harms of opioid addiction and to fund first responders. The four plaintiffs in the California case—the counties of Orange, Santa Clara and Los Angeles and the city of Oakland—had hoped to be awarded billions of dollars.
Judge Peter Wilson said his conclusions address “the question of liability based on the evidence in this trial, and are in no manner intended to ignore or minimize the existence and extent of the ongoing opioid crisis.”
An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.
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