On May 17, 2023, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu announced Walgreens agreed to pay the People of San Francisco $230 million for its role in creating the opioid epidemic in the city. The announcement comes months after the city concluded an 11-week trial against the pharmacy giant and other defendants in the Northern District of California.
Weitz & Luxenberg Detroit attorneys Paul Novak and Tiffany Ellis were on the ground in San Francisco throughout the trial and were vital members of the trial team. Over the last five years, numerous other attorneys and support staff, in both the Detroit and New York offices of the firm, worked to accomplish this landmark achievement. W&L partner Ellen Relkin served in national leadership on the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee throughout the litigation.
“It was gratifying to use our broader experience to help achieve justice in a community that has been so visibly hard hit by the opioid epidemic,” said Detroit managing attorney Mr. Novak. “These funds will undoubtedly help to abate and begin to reverse what this epidemic has done to San Francisco.”
In November, Walgreens settled the claims of other local governments across the country for $5.5 billion, but San Francisco did not participate in that settlement. According to Chiu, the Walgreens settlement is the largest achieved by any of the more than 4,500 local governments in the nationwide opioid litigation.
“We see the devastating effects of opioid everywhere in our country,” said Ms. Ellis. “This settlement is a testament to the stories we told on behalf of the San Francisco public works employees, park rangers, first responders, librarians, and everyone else who must face this gut-wrenching crisis head-on every day in San Francisco, as well as everyone who is or has battled addiction themselves or with a family member.”
The Illinois based Walgreens Boots Alliance was the only remaining defendant in San Francisco’s lawsuit after numerous other opioid makers and distributors settled their claims for more than $120 million.
Last August, Judge Charles Breyer found that Walgreens substantially contributed to the creation of the public nuisance of an opioid epidemic in San Francisco. “The aggregate evidence that plaintiff presented at trial was not only adequate to establish Walgreens’ culpability – it was devastating,” he wrote in his August 10, 2022, opinion.
The opinion contained detailed findings about how Walgreens over-dispensed opioids without proper due diligence and failed to identify, report, and halt suspicious orders as required by law. It was the first bench trial in the country to find Walgreens liable and result in a win for plaintiffs.
During the trial, it was proven that from 2006 to 2014, San Francisco County saw 163,645,704 opioids distributed, enough for 22 pills per person per year. Between 2015 and 2020, San Francisco saw a 478 percent increase in opioid-related overdose deaths. In a typical day at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital Emergency Department, approximately 25 percent of visits are opioid-related.
While the remedy phase of trial was set to continue in November, it was ultimately postponed to allow the parties to negotiate this settlement.
The funds will be paid to San Francisco over the course of 14 years, with the majority of the funds coming in the first eight years.
In addition to Weitz & Luxenberg, and attorneys and staff in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, the firms who represented the People in this historical result, include four co-lead trial counsel and their firms: Richard Heimann of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP; Aelish Baig of Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP; Jayne Conroy of Simmons Hanly Conroy; and Peter Mougey of Levin Papantonio Rafferty, as well as Andrus Anderson and the Renne Public Law Group.
Read Judge Breyer’s ruling. The case is City and County of San Francisco, et al., v. Purdue Pharma L.P., et al., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Case No. 3:18-cv-07591-CRB.