Despite two major defeats, Merck, makers of the pain reliever Vioxx, plan to fight each case individually, rather than settling them all at once. It's a strange move, considering that Merck has lost some high profile cases recently.
According to Paul Davies in The Wall Street Journal , some legal observers say that Merck's decision was based on the number of dismissals of claims in other cases. Another possible reason is that potential plaintiffs have been discouraged by the prospect of fighting Merck alone.
Initially, it appeared that Merck had taken the right strategy. But the Vioxx-makers recently lost three important cases, costing the company $253 million in one instance, $51 million in another, and sending a third case back to trial.
A jury in New Orleans awarded Gerald Barnett $50 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages for acting "in wanton, malicious, willful or reckless disregard for the plaintiff's rights". The jury found that Merck purposely lied or failed to give information about Vioxx Barnett's doctors.
In Texas, a jury awarded $253 million in the death of a 59 year-old marathon runner. The runner had been taking Vioxx for eight months. Because of Texas punitive damages caps, the award was reduced to $26 million.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, a state Superior Court Judge found that evidence discovered since an earlier verdict favoring Merck showed that Merck knowingly withheld information proving that heart attacks could occur after using Vioxx for less than 18 months.
Merck had initially claimed that a person had to take Vioxx for 18 months in order to face an increased risk of heart attacks. According to Frederick Humeston's lawyer, Merck had data that showed people having heart attacks within weeks of taking Vioxx.
His comments are supported by a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, which argues that Merck ordered its sales force not to initiate discussion of the Vioxx Gastrointestinal Research (VIGOR) study with physicians.
Another study, which was released in the Canadian Medical Journal (reported at NewsTarget.com) claims that heart attacks can happen as early as two weeks after a patient begins taking Vioxx.
However, a spokesperson for Merck called the findings in the New Orleans verdict uncalled for. He argued that Merck acted appropriately and provided information about Vioxx to all appropriate bodies in a responsible manner.
In other trials, the family of a 77 year-old heart attack victim was awarded $9 million in New Jersey state court and an award of $32 million was given to the family of a 71 year-old who died from a heart attack.
There are currently over 14,200 cases against Merck in state and federal courts. Some reports suggest that Merck has put aside $1 billion so it can fight each court case individually.
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Merck still fighting Vioxx lawsuits individually
|. By Heidi Turner|
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