In an abrupt turnaround from its previous stance, Merck & Co. spokesman Kent Jarrell told the Associated Press today that it might consider settling some of its lawsuits. However, the company continues to insist it won’t enter into any type of global settlement. Perhaps as more bad facts surface surrounding Vioxx, they may change their opinion once again.
According to a Bloomberg News report published today, Credit Suisse First Boston business analyst Catherine Arnold doubled her liability estimate for Merck & Co. to $10 billion. Merck is appealing last week’s jury verdict in Texas that awarded Robert Ernst’s widow $253 million.
In today’s NY Times there’s a story discussing the reason(s) why Merck lost its first Vioxx trial. The story concludes Merck lost because of bad facts. Jurors got to see a mountain of documents and email messages that showed how Merck researched Vioxx’s heart risks and presented what it knew to doctors and consumers. The documents showed that scientists at Merck were worried about Vioxx’s potential cardiovascular risks as early as 1997, two years before Merck began selling the drug. In spite of these bad facts, Merck’s general counsel, Kenneth C. Frazier, continues to insist, “We know we acted responsibly.” Go figure.
The size of the first Vioxx verdict ($259 Million) against Merck is an indication that juries in other cases will be angry at Merck when they hear the evidence of the company’s wrongdoing. The core evidence presented in the Ernst case is the same evidence that will be presented in other cases. While each case will have medical facts that vary for each plaintiff, the acts of wrongdoing by the company will be similar in each case. The Ernst verdict will likely be reduced significantly by the Judge under the provisions of some of the Texas tort reform laws that were passed to protect big companies but the significance of the large award by the jury indicates that Merck will have serious problems defending the 4,000 lawsuits that have already been filed and the tens of thousands of lawsuits that will be filed in the next few years.
Merck boldly claims that it will fight each case and will not settle. To date there have been no reported settlements by Merck of any cases. However, if the lawsuits drive the stock price of the company down far enough and it it is advantageous to the company’s shareholders the company has a duty to the shareholders to start settling cases.
The next trial set is in New Jersey in September and the first federal trial in the consolidated multidistrict litigation is in November in New Orleans. This multidistrict litigation is the consolidation of all of the cases pending in all the federal courts throughout the country which have been consolidated in New Orleans before Judge Eldon Fallon.
Additional evidence is being discovered every week in the ongoing depositions in the pending cases and it is likely that more evidence of wrongdoing by Merck will be uncovered that can be used in later trials. For example, recent evidence has been discovered that Merck’s early studies showed an increase in heart attacks after only a few weeks of Vioxx use. Merck had said when Vioxx was pulled off the market that the evidence of increased heart attacks only were shown after 18 months of Vioxx usage. That statement has now been shown to be untrue. David Graham, a scientist at the FDA, has estimated that Vioxx has killed over 60,000 people. That is more people than were killed in the Vietnam war. The Vioxx debacle is a public health catastrophe and apparently the only ones actively investigating or prosecuting Merck are the private trial lawyers and their brave clients.
Merck & Co. was found negligent in the death of a 59 year old triathlete who used Vioxx. The jury awarded the man’s widow $24 million in actual damages and $229 million in “exemplary” or punitive damages for a total of approximately $253 million. A jury of seven men and five women ruled 10 to 2 against Merck on each of three key questions. They found Merck failed to warn doctors of Vioxx’s danger, that the drug was improperly designed, and that Merck’s negligence caused Robert Ernst’s death. Merck plans to appeal.
In spite of their protestations to the contrary, the Diocese of Gary in Indiana told parishioners this past Sunday that there are more sexual abuse allegations against Fr. Richard Emerson, who abused one of my clients while stationed in Orlando Florida. It takes a great deal of courage for young people to come forward and face their abusers. They are real heroes who deserve our support.
I want to share with you a letter I sent today to the Bishop of Pensacola Tallahassee in Florida:
Most Rev. John H. Ricard SSJ
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Monsignor James Amos Pastoral Center
11 North B St.
Pensacola, FL 32501
I am writing you this day to urge you to repudiate the Motion to Dismiss which was sent to me by the lawyers for your Diocese. As you know, I represent a victim of Monsignor Richard Bowles, a priest of your Diocese whom you removed from the ministry a few years ago after you had deemed other abuse accusations as credible.
In legal terms, the Motion to Dismiss is an affirmative defense available to you and your lawyers in civil cases brought against the church in Pensacola-Tallahassee. In the civil realm, it is within your rights to counter with such a defense.
However, as a bishop you have been charged with the care of souls, not the least of whom is my client Paul Tugwell, a victim of Monsignor Bowles and brother of one of your priests. He needs you to step in and do the right thing. He was abused as a young teenager by a priest whom he admired and trusted. As a result, Paul’s faith has been shattered. Perhaps a man of the Gospel could help restore that faith by doing what is right at this time.
You are very well aware that the prevailing law of the moment does not ensure justice and equality in all circumstances. One need only remember the landmark Supreme Court decision of 1954, Brown v. Board of Education. Before that ruling, African-Americans were subjected to an inferior education because of their color. It took a Supreme Court ruling to correct the inequity. However, that decision only addressed education. It would be another long 10 years before African Americans would win another important decision in their quest for justice. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made racial discrimination in public places, such as theaters, restaurants and hotels, illegal. It also required employers to provide equal employment opportunities.
Sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church is also a civil rights issue. The children who’ve suffered abuse have been denied their civil rights. Their quest for justice is often stymied by antiquated or restrictive statute of limitations laws. That is why I appeal you personally to intercede for one of your own flock.
You have the power to do the right thing. Let Paul Tugwell continue his quest for justice. I look forward to your reply.
Joseph H. Saunders
In spite of problems, drug companies have raised their prices almost 13% since 2003. The first half of this year, they’ve raised prices about 5.5%. As a response to impending Medicaid reform, drug companies have raised their prices, when greater pricing pressures are expected.
At a time when the pharmaceutical industry has come under fire for its advertising to consumers, the FDA has decided to step in and review drug ads. The last guidelines were set in 1997 and are in dire need of review since many have died or suffered severe injury after having used these advertised drugs. Research shows that many doctors and consumers believe drug ads. The ads have been criticized for not fully disclosing their potentially letal side effects.
The FDA has finalized a new label for the drug Celebrex warning of increased cardiovascular risks such as heart attacks and strokes. The new label on Celebrex will recommend the drug be prescribed at the lowest dose and shortest time possible. The label will also carry a warning that Celebrex shouldn’t be used to treat pain associated with heart-bypass surgery. Sounds like a drug I want to take. . .