A vaccine might end the Covid-19 crisis, but there seems to be no cure for the pandemic of abusive litigation. In the latest spate of lawsuits, the plaintiff bar is teaming up with state and local officials in a shakedown of pharmacies and retailers despite little evidence of wrongdoing.
A case study is West Virginia, where Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has filed lawsuits against Walmart and CVS for contributing to the state’s opioid scourge. He alleges that “as individual distributors” both reaped billions by supplying “far more opioids to their retail pharmacies than necessary to meet a legitimate market.” Walmart declined to comment on the litigation, but CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis called West Virginia’s case “misguided” and said “we intend to defend the company against the allegations in the complaint.”
Walmart and CVS didn’t push opioids on their customers. Nor did they break the law when they distributed opioids to their pharmacies, which fill valid prescriptions written by state-licensed doctors and often approved by the state-run Medicaid or federal Medicare programs. But under Mr. Morrisey’s novel legal theory of public nuisance, it doesn’t matter if the companies acted lawfully. They can be held liable if someone somewhere suffered.
It’s not obvious how Walmart and CVS should have ascertained precisely what quantity of these prescribed opioids “meet a legitimate market.” Maybe these companies should try to hire Goldilocks, since they’ve also run into trouble for declining to fill prescriptions deemed suspicious.
Doctors have sued Walmart for defamation after it refused to fill their prescriptions. A class-action suit against CVS and other chains last month claims they discriminated against patients in pain when they declined to fill or delayed filling a prescription. The trial lawyers stand to win whether the pharmacies dispense or withhold opioids.