By Jensen, Randy on June 18, 2020.
City council voted 8-1 in favour of expressing interest in joining a $10-billion class-action lawsuit launched against pharmaceutical companies who oversold prescription opioids leading to the current illegal opioid crisis in Canada, and will be looking into becoming a named party in the lawsuit.
City solicitor Brian Loewen explained the intricacies of such a class action to city council during Monday’s regular meeting.
According to Loewen, regardless of whether or not city council endorsed joining the lawsuit, the City of Lethbridge currently falls into the class of communities named by litigating firm, Guardian Law Group, in launching the class action earlier this month.
Guardian Law Group said it was filing the suit on behalf of all municipalities affected by the opioid crisis with its one named representative community City of Grande Prairie serving as the case study in any court action for all communities in Canada.
But Loewen said by endorsing the lawsuit the City of Lethbridge helps give extra credence to it, and also opens the potential for the City of Lethbridge to become a co-named representative plaintiff alongside the City of Grande Prairie in the eventual court case after the pharmaceutical companies being sued file their statement of defence.
According to the motion put forward by Mayor Chris Spearman, the City will take part in the lawsuit on a contingency-fee basis, meaning the City will pay nothing to the law firm in the form of fees, but will pay the firm on a percentage basis if any amount is ever awarded to the City on behalf of the courts.
Loewen said he would look into the City becoming a co-named plaintiff in the lawsuit, and report to council on any potential costs or liabilities before pursuing any such designation formally.
He expected it would take “years” before the case ever came to the Court of Queen’s Bench for decision on the matter.
Coun. Joe Mauro voted against endorsing the lawsuit because he felt since the City was already categorically part of the class-action lawsuit there was no need to pursue any further motion from council on the matter.
Spearman, on the other hand, felt by voting to endorse the lawsuit officially council was sending a strong message of support for the class action on behalf of the community. He also hoped council would ultimately decide to become a co-named plaintiff in the lawsuit.
“I don’t believe there is a city in Alberta that has been more significantly impacted than Lethbridge,” Spearman stated. “There has been real costs to our city and our community in terms of significant subsequent drug use and related crime. And if we can recover any of those costs associated with that, we should try to do that.”
Spearman acknowledged with so many municipalities part of the class action associated with the lawsuit any potential future sum awarded to the City of Lethbridge out of the $10-billion total being asked would likely be small, but felt there was also a message to be sent through filing the lawsuit which needed to be heard.
“Holding someone accountable is important, and having a decision saying that the drug manufacturing companies were active protagonists in this issue,” he said. “Getting that legal opinion decided by the courts, I think there is benefit to that as well. Any funds we would receive would be a bonus, recognizing they might be very small.”
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