HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - In October the Huntsville City Council voted to hire a law firm and file a lawsuit against opioid drugmakers.
The city is one of 2,500 entering into this litigation. There are still some questions that remain when it comes to Huntsville's lawsuit against opioid manufacturing giants. For starters - monetary damages.
"We do not know the amount yet. There is not a dollar amount claimed and the reason for that is the numbers are a little difficult to pin down and they keep climbing. Not for just Huntsville specifically, but for the state of Alabama and nationally. We've gone beyond at least across the country we've gone beyond an estimated one trillion dollars in damages. Penn State came out with a study last year that estimated 58 billion just in lost tax revenue for local governments and state governments," said Keith Jackson, partner at the Riley Jackson Law Firm.
Police, EMS, overtime ... Huntsville's attorneys at the Birmingham based Riley Jackson Law Firm are still working to figure out what the opioid crisis cost the city.
"We're actually in the middle of putting together a form we have to submit for Huntsville that identifies categories of damages, and from there we'll move forward with proving what Huntsville has lost and likely will lose going forward," said Jackson.
Huntsville is one of hundreds of other municipalities that have filed this kind of lawsuit. The suits are filed in Ohio, where one judge is overseeing the litigation.
"It's called multidistrict litigation. We call it MDL for short," Jackson said. "The judge that kind of steers the ship, he kind of directs the litigation, he keeps everybody moving forward, keeps the litigation moving forward so it doesn't stall."
Huntsville attorneys are not concerned that being part of an MDL could compromise the amount of money Huntsville would be awarded.
"That was going to happen regardless because of the number of plaintiffs. And although these are very wealthy businesses that have profited tremendously off this opioid crisis, there is a limited amount of money available to compensate these cities for what has already happened," Jackson said.
Huntsville is suing several drug makers, including household names like Johnson and Johnson. Some of these corporate giants have already settled in other suits. And attorneys for the Rocket City say that's a promising sign.
"The defendants are willing to come to the table and try to negotiate to a resolution that makes sense for everybody. And that's the best hope for Huntsville and its the best hope for the other governments that are involved," he said.
As for how long it could take to get a payout, that is still to be determined.
"Some pieces of this puzzle have to fall into place that do not involve Huntsville. And that's some of what are called bellwether trials and there's also some state court trials. In New York the attorney general there is about to go to trial with two counties," Jackson explained.
Jackson says they should know more about the monetary impact of the opioid crisis on the city in the coming weeks.
Alabama's attorney general also filed a lawsuit against opioid makers. According to a representative from the attorney general's office, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case in November. A judge denied that motion. A trial is scheduled for July 27th.