U.S. Eighth Circuit - The FindLaw 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Missouri Appeals Court Affirms $16.7M Verdict in Opioid Case

Opioids -- pain relievers derived from synthetic forms of opium -- are everywhere.

From the president to the pusher, everybody seems to be talking about opioids. By all accounts, there is an "opioid epidemic."

And that was a problem in a case against a doctor and hospital accused of over-prescribing the drug. The defendants appealed a $16.7 million verdict, saying the judge allowed jurors to hear too much about the epidemic.

Opioid Epidemic

But in Koon v. Walden, a state appeals court disagreed. The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District disagreed said the "epidemic" evidence did not taint the trial.

One doctor testified that opioid abuse was well covered in the media and medical publications. Another testified that opioid consumption had increased by 300 percent between 1999 and 2010.

The defendant's witness, Dr. Erik Gunderson, also said "we're in the midst of a prescription opioid epidemic in our country." He said between 17,000 and 19,000 people die each year from opioid overdoses.

The appeals court said the evidence was more probative than prejudicial and did not confuse the jury in determining liability. Over four years of prescriptions, Brian Koon went from taking six pills to forty a day.

Punitive Damages

Finding that the Dr. Henry Walden and St. Louis University Hospital had given the plaintiff up to 13 times the necessary dosage, the jury awarded him $938,00 and $804,000 for his wife. The jury also awarded $15 million in punitive damages.

"In short, the evidence shows that Dr. Walden knew or had information from which he should have known there was a high probability that prescribing Koon these amount of opioids for this length of time would result in injury," wrote Robert Dowd wrote in affirming the judgment.

"His decision to prescribe these amounts for this length of time was done in conscious disregard of, and with complete indifference to, Koon's safety and the safety of others," he said. "We find this to be tantamount to intentional wrongdoing."

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