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Jeffrey B. Simon, The Real Life Attorney Behind the Netflix Show "PainKiller"

In the world of legal battles, few individuals stand as tall as our guest today, Attorney Jeffrey B. Simon. A relentless advocate for justice, he has been at the forefront of groundbreaking cases that have reshaped our understanding of corporate responsibility and accountability. From taking on pharmaceutical giants in the opioid crisis to spearheading the fight against several of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies for climate change costs, Attorney Simon's journey has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Q: Can you provide insights into your process of uncovering the truth behind the opioid epidemic in "Painkiller," including the challenges you faced during your investigation and what surprised you the most about the causes and consequences you uncovered?

Attorney Simon: On behalf our governmental clients, we sued Purdue Pharma, a prominent player among the pharmaceutical companies responsible for igniting and fueling the opioid epidemic depicted in “Painkiller.”. It was a dire situation where people across our nation, including my home state of Texas, were succumbing to the devastating grip of painkiller addiction and related overdoses. This crisis demanded urgent intervention. I and my firm represent more than 40 counties in the State of Texas in opioid litigation.

The complexity of the case intensified when Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy in 2019 in attempt by the company and the Sackler family to aggregate and discharge all of their civil liabilities for the opioid-related harms they are alleged to have caused. That filing resulted in a multi-billion-dollar settlement, but a highly controversial one. There are stakeholders who object to the terms of that settlement and the United States Supreme Court will decide its merits. Arguments to America’s highest court on this matter will ensue in December 2023. .

Q: Your work in holding pharmaceutical companies accountable for the opioid epidemic is well-known. How do you plan to leverage your experience from that case to address the unprecedented climate accountability case you're currently handling? What similarities or differences do you see in these two significant legal battles?

Attorney Simon: There are parallels between the allegations in opioid litigation and those of our climate accountability case, both in terms of the facts alleged and the law that applies to them. In opioid litigation, we allege that certain companies in the opioid supply chain lied to healthcare providers and the public about the safety and efficacy of prescription opioids. We contend that as a result of reliance upon those lies, doctors overprescribed addictive narcotics to pain patients who then overconsumed them, which resulted in a public health crisis/public nuisance of addictions and overdoses. In the climate case, we assert that several of the largest fossil fuel producers lied for decades to the American public, including our clients, as well as to leading climate scientists, about the devastating environmental impacts fossil fuel activities would wreak upon them. We claim that as a result of such deception, even environmentally conscious communities like Multnomah County did not foresee and therefore could not adequately prepare or weatherize for the extreme heat event in 2021 that caused within it so much human suffering and economic harm.

In late June, the northwest region of the United States experienced a scorching heatwave. Portland, Oregon, bore witness to temperatures reaching a staggering 108, 112, and even 116 degrees Fahrenheit. The consequences were dire, with 69 lives lost to heatstroke, and even the cables in cable cars melted. What followed was a comprehensive investigation by leading climate scientists, and their consensus was unequivocal: this was not a natural weather anomaly but a direct result of fossil fuel emissions. Just as corporate greed caused America’s largest drug-related public health crisis in relation to prescription opioids, so, too, do we contend that it caused a catastrophic environmental crisis/public nuisance in Multnomah County– different corporate Goliaths but symmetrical conduct. Neither America’s opioid epidemic nor Multnomah County’s extreme heat event were caused by acts of God, but rather, we allege, were spawned by corporate misconduct. For the harms caused by that wrongdoing, those responsible must be held accountable in the civil justice system, and that is both our purpose and our passion.

Q: In your upcoming book "Last Rights," you mention how corporate greed and political power have impacted our justice system. Could you provide a specific example from your experience that highlights this issue and its effects on individuals' right to a trial by jury? What reforms do you believe are necessary to address these systemic challenges?

A: If a big company knowingly or recklessly pollutes your drinking water, or badly injures your child by manufacturing a dangerous and defective toy, or a major hospital cripples you by botching a routine medical procedure, your only means by which to hold them financially accountable to you is by your filing a lawsuit that carries with it the threat that a jury of your peers will condemn that misconduct and force the company to pay for the harms they caused. Your right to do that is guaranteed by the 7th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, over the last 25 years, this essential right and freedom has been systematically stripped from Americans by large corporations and the politicians they pay to make them unaccountable to consumers for the harms that defective products, fraudulent marketing, or medical malpractice cause. The law that governs proceedings in the civil justice system is not fixed; it consistently changes to reflect the interests of the most politically influential.

Over time, the winners and losers of legal disputes are the same winners and losers of political contests. The party in power wields its influence to shape outcomes in the civil justice system that meet the goals of its largest financial supporters. In practical effect, when a few injured people obtain substantial settlements or favorable jury verdicts against companies in a particular segment of industry, those defendants deploy immense financial, political, and institutional resources to repeal or weaken the laws that have been costing them money in the civil justice system.

Laws are passed federally and/or in states to immunize whole classes of industries from legal liability in personal injury cases, such as from tobacco or guns. Patients who have been injured or killed by medical malpractice have been targeted and marginalized by state laws that were enacted ostensibly to “reform” the civil justice system. These statutes exist to reduce the quantity and economic value of medical malpractice claims by imposing strict damage caps upon what any person may receive for physical pain and emotional torment caused by a healthcare provider’s incompetence or recklessness.

In application, these laws inflict the greatest harms upon patients experiencing the most pain, because the damage caps apply uniformly and unwaveringly to all claimants, irrespective of the duration and intensity of their suffering.

My book, Last Rights, sounds the alarm that this subversion of our rights makes Americans less safe and less free. The book calls upon readers to join me in the mission to restore our civil justice system and their right to trial by jury before we forfeit them to corporate masters forever. Available for Pre-Order


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