In May, the Sackler family – owners of Purdue Pharma, maker of the prescription painkiller OxyContin – was handed a golden key. In exchange for giving $6 billion to thousands of plaintiffs, the Sacklers would be shielded from all civil opioid claims related to Purdue as part of the company’s bankruptcy deal. Yesterday the US Supreme Court took that “key” away. The bankruptcy deal has been blocked after the Justice Department objected to the Sacklers taking advantage of third-party release protections meant for debtors in financial distress, not billionaires. Purdue says the $6 billion in payments to plaintiffs will now have to be delayed. This is true, and some communities particularly affected by the opioid crisis, including Native American tribes, have complained about the inevitable delay. But the alternative is a precedent for wealthy corporations and individuals being able to use the bankruptcy system to avoid liability in other mass injury cases. The justices will hear arguments in December on the legality of the deal.
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