The court assesses the fight against the insurance coverage of the drug distributor

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – The Ohio Supreme Court decides whether a drug distributor’s insurance company should be forced to provide a legal defense in the company’s fight against government lawsuits related to the opioid epidemic.

Judges heard arguments on Wednesday in a dispute between Hamilton County-based Masters Pharmaceutical and its 2010-2018 insurer, Wisconsin-based Acuity Insurance.

Beginning in 2012, West Virginia and the local governments of Michigan and Nevada sued Masters and other opioid distributors, demanding compensation for the increased utility costs incurred in the communities’ fight against it. epidemic of pain relievers. These included needed increases in policing, court cases, drug treatment, emergency response and medical services.

Masters maintains that he did nothing wrong. But he also says that under its contract with Acuity, the company must defend Masters against the allegations. Masters argues that previous court rulings have confirmed the idea that insurance companies must provide a defense to businesses for plausible claims of alleged damage.

Acuity’s policy with Masters requires it to defend lawsuits alleging “bodily injury damage,” lawyers for the drug company argued in a court case earlier this year.

Because governments are suing Masters for the cost of medical care and treatment for citizens who have allegedly been harmed by the company’s opioid distribution, Acuity must defend Masters against these lawsuits, the attorneys said.

The allegations against Masters include specific references to injuries, including the cost of 116 opioid-related hospitalizations in Saginaw County, Michigan; 24 hospitalizations in Mason County, Michigan; and 243 doses of the Narcan overdose antidote administered by firefighters in Lansing, Michigan, Masters attorney Paul Rose said in Wednesday’s state Supreme Court hearing.

“Each of those ambulances that went to pick up someone picked up a specific person. Each dose of Narcan was given to a specific person, ”said Rose.

Acuity responds that it is only responsible for covering injuries sustained by specific people, not the overall costs of the opioid epidemic to governments.

The government lawsuits seek compensation for costs “associated with increasing public services, and not for bodily injuries sustained by one or more persons,” and therefore do not require Acuity to defend itself, lawyers said. the company in a court case.

Some judges seemed skeptical of Acuity’s position and wondered why he shouldn’t defend Masters.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor noted that the policy required the company to defend itself against “damages claimed by any person or organization for care, loss of service or death.”

Benjamin Sasse, representing Acuity, said the key was an additional phrase referring to “bodily injury”.

“These covers are written and taken out to address the injuries of a specific person,” Sasse said.

Insurance companies are urging the court to side with Acuity in the closely watched case.

“Insurers have no obligation to defend lawsuits targeting massive and unlimited government spending on utilities,” a group of insurance company associations argued in a friend of the court case in February. on the Acuity side.

“Forcing them to do so would deviate significantly from applicable law, insurance policy terms and public order,” the companies said.

A decision in the case is not expected for months.

Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Justin D. O'Neill

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