Decision In Oklahoma Opioid Case May Give Boost To Colorado Climate Case

The recent court ruling that held the pharmaceutical company, Johnson & Johnson, accountable for its role in Oklahoma’s opioid crisis could influence some of the pending lawsuits seeking to hold energy companies accountable for their role in the climate crisis. That includes one case in the Mountain West.

David Bookbinder is one of the attorneys representing two Colorado counties and the city of Boulder in a collective suit against Exxon Mobil and Suncor Energy, for their contribution to the climate crisis. 

The parallels between the Colorado case and the Oklahoma opioid case,” Bookbinder said, “are pretty striking.”

“For decades,” he said, “oil companies made a product. And during the time that they were making and selling it, they knew there would be significant climate consequences as a result of burning their products.”

He said that’s basically the same argument made in the Oklahoma opioid case. That Johnson & Johnson knew the harms their products could have on patients, but marketed them and profited off them anyway.

The Colorado case is just one of several lawsuits around the country arguing that oil and gas companies should also be held accountable for their contributions to climate change. 

“We’re saying look, local governments are going to have to pay more for providing basic local government services as a result of climate change,” said Bookbinder.

And he said the fact that Johnson & Johnson has to pay for its contribution to the damages of the opioid crisis in Oklahoma provides helpful legal ground for Colorado’s case against the energy companies. 

Not all legal analysts are happy with the Oklahoma outcome. In a statement The American Tort Reform Association said it was disappointed in the Oklahoma verdict, calling it “a major expansion in this area of the law” and complaining that it could open the door to similar decisions against other industries.  

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.