Panel refuses to separate baby cases from other opioid suits

NEW YORK (AP) — A panel of judges says lawsuits filed on behalf of babies born in withdrawal from opioids should be considered by the same judge who is presiding over hundreds of claims from local governments against the drug industry.

The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ruled on the matter Thursday, just one week after hearing arguments on it.

Lawyers for the babies said they have different legal concerns and need different information than the governments who have filed most of the 1,400 suits blaming companies that make, distribute and sell prescription painkillers for an opioid crisis that killed some 48,000 Americans last year.

Lawyers say they're seeking to represent in class actions lawsuits about 40,000 babies a year who are born to mothers using prescription painkillers or illicit opioids such as heroin or fentanyl. Part of their concern, they said, is that the lead lawyers for the government entities in the lawsuits have not represented their specific issues.

In a written opinion, Judge Sarah Vance said that creating a second group of lawsuits under the jurisdiction of a second judge would slow down the cases.

She pointed out in her order that judges can create a process for representing dissenting views among those generally on the same side in complex cases like this.

Four other judges joined Vance's order. Two members of the panel did not take part in the decision.

Scott Bickford, a lead lawyer for the babies, said his side is deciding whether to appeal. "We will not rest until the babies' claims are heard," he said in an emailed statement.

Judge Dan Polster, who is based in Cleveland and is overseeing the litigation, is pushing for a settlement that would address business practices regarding opioids and potentially provide money for those harmed by the toll of addiction and overdoses.

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