Attorney General TJ Donovan is advising Vermont towns to consider being part of a national lawsuit that seeks to make drug companies liable for creating an epidemic of opioid addiction.
The judge overseeing the case has created a new class of plaintiffs who can participate as a group without having to file their own lawsuit, Donovan said.
"If there is a settlement, I certainly want to make sure that the cities and counties of Vermont recover some of the monies here for the work that they've done to address this crisis," he said.
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Donovan told VPR Tuesday that joining this new class could have advantages for communities that have been on the front lines of the addiction epidemic.
"Obviously, the benefit is you get into the class, you're part of the negotiation. If there is a settlement, you're going to get a recovery and you don't have to pay the attorney's fees," he said. "If you have your own attorney, the lawyers are going to get paid. And you're talking probably anywhere between 20% to a third off any settlement to pay the lawyers."
Donovan said towns will automatically be included in the new class of plaintiffs, unless they chose to opt out of the case and file their own lawsuit.
The town of Bennington has already chosen this option, and several other Vermont towns are also considering it. One potential advantage of that legal strategy is that any money Bennington wins would go directly to the town, instead of going into the state's general fund and distributed by the Legislature.
"At the end of the day, cities and counties have to make their own decision if they want to opt out," Donovan said. "We're trying to get the folks in Vermont as much information as they need so they can make an informed decision about what they want to do."
Donovan said it's difficult to predict how much money individual towns could get in the national lawsuit, though he said it probably won't be a huge payout because some 2,500 counties and towns around the country are already involved in the case.