Merck Loss Jolts
Drug Giant, Industry
In Landmark Vioxx Case,
Jury Tuned Out Science,
Explored Coverup Angle
'Shadow' Panel at McDonald's
By HEATHER WON TESORIERO, ILAN BRAT, GARY MCWILLIAMS and BARBARA MARTINEZ
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
August 22, 2005; Page A1
ANGLETON, Texas -- In an ominous sign for Merck & Co., it took just an hour for a jury here to blow through the company's principal line of defense: that its painkiller Vioxx couldn't have caused the heart-related death of 59-year-old triathlete Robert Ernst.
Facing thousands of lawsuits over Vioxx, Merck had built its argument in the first suit to go to trial around the nitty-gritty science of heart attacks and what causes them. But after the first hour or so of deliberation Thursday, a majority of the jury had in effect dispensed with the science and started a series of 10-2 votes against Merck that would end in a $253 million verdict against the drug maker.
Interviews with jurors suggest that many tuned out Merck's arguments and focused instead on evidence they understood: that a big corporation allegedly covered up defects with its product. One crucial document was an email from February 1997 -- two years before Merck started selling Vioxx -- in which a top company scientist, Alise Reicin, wrote that "the possibility of increased CV [cardiovascular] events is of great concern." Merck maintained that it didn't know of Vioxx's potential for heart risk until just before it pulled the drug from the market in September 2004.
"That told me they knew cardiovascular events were possible on this drug, but they failed to tell us about it," said juror Lorraine Blas, a 41-year-old human-resources worker.
The award to Mr. Ernst's widow, Carol, is certain to be reduced, both sides said -- probably to about $26 million. Jurors set $229 million of the total as punitive damages, which Texas law requires to be reduced to less than $2 million.
Merck faces a potential liability from Vioxx litigation that analysts have estimated as high as $30 billion. Another case is set to begin next month in New Jersey state court and the first federal trial is slated for November.
"I love when a widow from a small town can stand up against one of the largest companies in the entire world, actually get access to their documents and show a jury how they killed her husband," said Mark Lanier, the plaintiff's lawyer, whose folksy manner belied his intense preparation for the case. Mr. Lanier went so far as to convene a "shadow" jury to hear the case and offer its opinions, which he used to fashion a closing argument. In it, he suggested jurors might get national attention if they voted for the plaintiff.
Cute.... Ignore the science, and damn the facts. We have a dead dude, and a big, bad drug company with lots of money. Let's screw the bastard!
The problems here are the following.
1) The biggest winners are the lawyers - every single time. No matter who loses and who wins, everyone loses but the lawyers who smell money. The plaintiff will see damn little of the verdict money - if any.
2) This heart attack had absolutely nothing to do with Vioxx. This reminds me a lot of two other events in history.
* Multiple class action suits filed against Dow Corning for their silicone breat implants allegedly causing connective tissue disease. The lawyers collected billions and temporarily put Dow Corning into near bankruptcy status. Science proved that these breast implants didn't cause the disorders, but the lawyers didn't give a penny of their ill-gotten gains back to Dow Corning.
* Lawyers (including that A-hole John Edwards) filing suits against obstetricians for allegedly causing mothers to deliver cerebral palsy babies. The science proved that there was no connection. Meanwhile, the lawyers made fame and fortune, and didn't give a penny back to the doctors whose lives and careers they ruined. And now we have a health care crisis in rural areas because OBs cannot afford to practice there with their $200K per year malpractice insurance premiums. Instead, these rural moms are left on their own.
Yes, every treatment has risks.
But actually we shouldn't be. There are likely as many if not more risks to taking aspirin as there are to taking any of these Cox II inhibitor drugs.
Meanwhile, now we have millions of elderly suffering from chronic pain, and fewer drugs on the market to help them deal with it. Not everyone can take aspirin or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Nuprin), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) isn't an anti-inflammatory.
And if you have a 401K and/or own any mutual fund, chances are you just took a big hit. Merck stock is in more places than you think. And now all YOUR retirement money is going to those lawyers.
But wait, there's more!
They advertise every day on our local television for people having taken Celebrex, Vioxx, Aleve, etc. who happen also to have had a heart attack. There's money to be made, you know...
This has nothing to do with justice. When these scumbags make all the money and the rest of us are left with fewer options and more expensive medicine, we all are being hurt by this activity. When lawyers knowingly prey on the emotions and ignorance of the common person in rural America to make money, my mind tells me that there's something seriously wrong.
And I know I will get multiple posts after this about Big Business, the Big Bad Drug companies, corporate greed, etc., etc. The problem is, it's the consumers of health care who are both screaming for more new treatments and then wanting to hire one of these ambulance chasing scumbags whenever they encounter a bad outcome. And it is the consumers of health care who in the end get hurt by the retribution. The only winners are the lawyers.
Living involves taking risks - period. Get over it.
And there are better ways to dealing with these kinds of issues, not the least of which is re-examining this direct-to-consumer drug advertising. It didn't used to be this way.
Do yourself a favor. Do not ever elect anyone associated with this kind of legal activity to political office. And if you don't like jobs going overseas where the issue of corporate liability isn't the same as it is here, think twice before you decide what American Corporations "deserve." In the end, punishing American Corporations in such fashion only hurts Americans. The "Big Bad Corporations" are just going to pass the bill on to you, and the job over to a 3rd world country.