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For in-house and general counsel for major pharmaceutical companies, the recent deluge of lawsuits against opioid makers, like Purdue Pharmaceuticals, has likely resulted in panics around legal departments from coast to coast.
If you don't know the first thing about Purdue's legal headaches, the local Burlington Free Press article provides a solid summary. But for those outside the pharmaceutical industry who might not be closely following the epidemic of opioid litigation related to the opioid epidemic, below you can read about a few key takeaways that can transfer across industries.
Don't Wait and See If You Can Do Something
Like the climate change cases that have been popping up recently, the opioid litigation centers on not just what opioid makers knew about the risks involved with long-term use, but when they discovered those risks, and what they did after the discovery. Namely, it is being alleged that the companies, including Purdue, knew about the risks and did nothing to mitigate them.
The lesson to learn here: If your company wants to pursue the most risk averse path (like most companies beholden to shareholders), upon learning about a problem, a wait-and-see approach is likely to lead to trouble down the road (potentially even from those same shareholders). Leaning in to potential problems and doing the "right thing" can pay off (just like confronting bad facts at trial head on).
Scorched Earth Litigation Can Burn You Too
While the scorched earth litigation method might work to crush trolls, when state and local government agencies, or deep pocketed nonprofit activist organizations, take up a case (or cause) targeting your company, going wide might just be a waste of money, resources, and make your company look evil in the eyes of the public. What's worse is that the hit to the company goodwill can last as long as the litigation, and the longer the litigation goes on, the worse your company's Google search results will look.
Having a measured and appropriate response to scandalous accusations or facts before getting eyeball deep in litigation can often preserve the public image that's sure to tank once the litigation animosity ramps up to full on we're-going-to-dump-enough-paper-on-your-desk-to-wrap-the-entire-earth-twice-over levels.