New York opioid trial postponed due to virus outbreak

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CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) — The next trial scheduled over the drug industry’s liability in the opioid crisis has been postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak, giving the parties more time to attempt to reach agreement on a settlement.

A judge announced the delay Tuesday for the trial that had been scheduled to start in Central Islip, New York, on March 20, with opening statements expected in early April after a jury was seated.

The postponement means that hundreds of lawyers and potential jurors won’t gather in the courthouse as the new coronovirus is spreading worldwide. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The case was over the claims brought against companies by New York state’s attorney general and the Long Island counties of Suffolk and Nassau.

If it had moved ahead, it would have been the second U.S. trial of its type, following a narrower one in Oklahoma last year. The industry faces about 3,000 opioid lawsuits from plainitffs including nearly every state, plus hundreds of local and Native American tribal governments.

The nation’s three biggest drug distribution companies and two manufacturers have been trying to get plaintiffs to agree to a settlement of cases across the country. About 20 state attorneys general have rejected the offer so far.

The start of the New York trial was viewed as a deadline to get a deal done. With the delay, it gives parties more time to attempt to reach an agreement.

The postponement also grants more time to defendants who had sought a delay.

Judge Jerry Garguilo set a meeting for April 14 to determine the next steps.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said the rescheduling should happen as soon as it can.

“While our first duty must be to ensure the safety of every individual in attendance at trial, as the court stated today, this trial will not be delayed a single minute longer than necessary,” she said in a statement.

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