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August 19, 2005 5:33 PM   Subscribe

No mere slap on the wrist for Merck. Jury awards grieving widow $253.4 Mil in Vioxx suit. The first of thousands of cases like it. (washpost)
posted by punkbitch (52 comments total)

 
The bastards deserve it. They knew about the dangers for years.
posted by kyrademon at 5:50 PM on August 19, 2005


If they're going to be paying out a quarter billion to every widow they made then I should probably look to sell my Merck stock, eh?

That said, this is a lame FPP.
posted by fenriq at 5:55 PM on August 19, 2005


If they're going to be paying out a quarter billion to every widow they made then I should probably look to sell my Merck stock, eh?

I think it dropped 8 percent as soon as the verdict was in. You might want to call your broker this weekend to see if you can sell first thing Monday.
posted by aburd at 5:57 PM on August 19, 2005


they won't pay that much at all. They'll appeal and it'll be reduced like the tobacco thing was.
posted by amberglow at 5:59 PM on August 19, 2005


That would give Ernst a maximum of $1.65 million in possible punitive damages, meaning her total damage award could not exceed $26.1 million.

They'll appeal that, and go even lower--watch.
posted by amberglow at 6:00 PM on August 19, 2005


It's likely to be reduced by a factor of 10 in this particular case, thanks to business-friendly Texas tort reform, yes.

But maybe, with 60,000 or so dead from Vioxx, the cumulative cases will add up to something signficant. One can hope, anyway.
posted by kyrademon at 6:01 PM on August 19, 2005


It's interesting to me how most of us (including me) believe that this will, in fact, be reduced to a "slap on the wrist" or some lame "$50 in credit toward your next Merck subscription" class-action type settlement... we've gotten rather cynical and unimpressed with the power of personal legal recourse over large corporations, eh?

I hate to make this comparison (for a lot of reasons), but 60,000 dead people is twenty times the number of casualties from 9/11. Why doesn't a drug company's criminal negligence make us as angry and frightened? Most people would call knowingly causing 60,000 deaths "genocide"... if it was done with weapons, anyway.
posted by zoogleplex at 6:14 PM on August 19, 2005


Texas (I don't live there) state law limits punitive damages to twice the amount of lost lifetime wages so there will be an automatic reduction.
posted by longsleeves at 6:42 PM on August 19, 2005


zoogle, i think the problem lies with the government establishing better oversight of the approval process, and really investigating each new drug that comes before it and not relying on the drug company's own research and findings--they've been failing at that for a long time. Money to survivors or widows won't help change that.
posted by amberglow at 6:56 PM on August 19, 2005


zoogleplex, you know why. The deaths don't happen on tv, live, all at once.

I don't think the award will reduced to a meaningless number but I do think that its alot like a baseball suspension, the first appeal usually knocks it down by about half if not more. But then, appeal's don't always work.

From what little of this case I do understand, Merck acted in a pretty grossly negligent way. They knew about the dangers of Vioxx and didn't say a word, lots of people died needlessly for money. That's textbook, isn't it?
posted by fenriq at 7:01 PM on August 19, 2005


I doubt they pay more than one percent of this figure in the end (which is still serious coin, no doubt).
posted by caddis at 7:02 PM on August 19, 2005


As for Texas, I would much rather be a plaintiff than a defendant in south Texas. A jury of your peers down there is a bunch of poor people who have been stomped on by big corporations for years and think nothing of sticking a big verdict to a deep pocket. Think hot coffee in the crotch.
posted by caddis at 7:06 PM on August 19, 2005


"The court rules in favor of Mr. Lampwick. Itchy & Scratchy Studios will pay a restitution of 800 billion dollars... though that amount will probably come down a bit on appeal."

- The Simpsons
posted by intermod at 7:26 PM on August 19, 2005


Think again.
posted by MikeKD at 7:28 PM on August 19, 2005


caddis, if your description of many Texans is accurate, then why they vote almost completely Republican is very much beyond my understanding. Not that the Democrats are much better at dealing with corporations, but sheesh!
posted by zoogleplex at 7:28 PM on August 19, 2005


It's more than just the juries, caddis. The plaintiffs' lawyers in South Texas are, shall we say, good friends with the judges in state court. Indeed, in some cases defense lawyers are doing little more than preserving error for appeal. Mark Lanier, the plaintiff's lawyer in this case, has a close relationship with Judge Hardin, and it's no suprise that this case was the first to go to trial, or that the jury awarded such a large verdict. In 2004 Judge Hardin received $15,000 in campaign contributions from Lanier and others at Lanier's firm.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:34 PM on August 19, 2005


Think again - the old lady burned herself; she was at fault and no one else. I am sorry she was so careless, but McDonald's was not to blame for her mistake. Coffee is hot, good coffee is really hot - don't spill it on yourself, it will really hurt. Now nobody can get hot coffee at McDonalds because she was too uncoordinated to open her coffee without spilling and then too greedy to accept responsibility for her own mistakes. To Hell with her. She represents everything wrong with the civil liability system. Greedy non-deserving people like her wreck the system for people who are truly hurt by corporate negligence. She should be ashamed of herself. Fuck her.
posted by caddis at 8:19 PM on August 19, 2005


caddis: Speaking as a born-and-bred Texan, you're pissin out your ass.

Corporations lluurrrve Texas -- not just for its auto-fellatingly flexible environmental standards but also for the general can-do, fuck-you spirit exhibited by those stalwart GI-Billers who went to work for the Ship Channel petrochemical plants and filled the East Harris County Levittowns with complaisant wives and hapless spawn, and responded to any outsider who mentioned the stinking, hardly breathable* air by saying -- "Smells like money!"

No. Texas is far from a plaintiff's dream. Find some other cheap sociological explanation for the verdict. Alternatively, you might consider that the evidence showed that the corporation did actually fuck up.

*It went well beyond breathable at specific points in the process, when the air could literally strip paint. The plants issued notices to move autos into garages and keep the kids inside.
posted by vetiver at 8:21 PM on August 19, 2005


oh, and monju_basatsu is not wrong, but mostly it is the jury pool, one of the finest in the nation for PI lawyers.
posted by caddis at 8:22 PM on August 19, 2005


caddis, do you have 58K dialup, or what? It's not like the truth has been obscured for anyone who cares to see it. Which class clearly excludes you. Should you care to lose a convenient and easily debunked source of outrage, read this account of your "To Hell with her" case.

You really are a pathetic lackwit. You just latch onto some easy online fiction and -- whoopsie-doodle!-- that's the world. Sadly for you, things are quite a bit more complicated.

I refer you to Google and Snopes.com. Nope, no hyperlinks. It'll do you good to search them out.
posted by vetiver at 8:45 PM on August 19, 2005


caddis, while I don't disagree that the jury pool in South Texas is often favorable to plaintiffs, especially local ones, saying "mostly it is the jury pool" ignores the local politics and the relationship between the plaintiff's lawyers and judge and jury.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:23 PM on August 19, 2005


caddis >>> "I doubt they pay more than one percent of this figure in the end (which is still serious coin, no doubt)."


Not for Merck, it's not. $25mil is a shitload of money to you or I. To Big pharma, it's a drop in the bloody bucket.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:26 PM on August 19, 2005


So, will the price of my heart medicines double now?

Or triple?
posted by mischief at 12:27 AM on August 20, 2005


Pass on the expense to the consumers..



CANADIAN DRUGS WILL KILL YOU!
posted by sourwookie at 12:41 AM on August 20, 2005


Real justice would be if the woman and her lawyer who won this lawsuit contracts a disease whose only cure dies in the lab of a laid off Merck scientist.

Clinical trials with Vioxx showed that the incidence of increased heart attacks equaled the decreased incidence of gastrointestinal bleeding.
posted by paleocon at 4:46 AM on August 20, 2005


Vetiver, the truth, even according to your own cited article, is that most people like their coffee hot and McDonald's met that customer desire. Their coffee may have been hotter than other restaurants, but not hotter than recommended for the best coffee drinking experience. 150 F is scalding. Anything over that temperature will cause burns. No one would buy coffee cooler than that, except perhaps iced coffee. So any coffee is hot enough to burn. The woman had in her possession a cup of coffee she should have known was hot enough to injure her and she was careless and spilled on herself. McDonalds did not pour the coffee on her, she did it herself. Because of greedy plaintiffs like this we have increased political support for the kind of tort reform which limits damages in cases where the defendant was clearly at fault. Just because you are hurt does not mean someone owes you. They owe you when they cause your injuries.

monju, I do not dispute your assertions about judges in South Texas. My point is merely that juries, not judges, decide whether a defendant was negligent and determine the size of a damage award. I will not dispute either the effect judges can have on how the juries decide these matters.
posted by caddis at 6:56 AM on August 20, 2005


Yeah caddis, that coffee woman totally fucked up our lives, but we really need to piece our society back together and move on. We can sell exceptionally hot coffee in flimsy cups to fund our march.

paleocon, Vioxx causes intestinal bleeding as a side effect. It just causes less of it than another drug (but certainly more than placebo). Do you have any facts to back you up or are you just giving words to your farts?
posted by fleacircus at 7:56 AM on August 20, 2005


Fleacircus, you answered your own question. All medicines carry risk in addition to their benefit. So, for the anti-inflammatory benefit, Vioxx has decreased bleeding risk. What is your problem?
posted by paleocon at 8:10 AM on August 20, 2005


My problem is with this statement of yours: "Clinical trials with Vioxx showed that the incidence of increased heart attacks equaled the decreased incidence of gastrointestinal bleeding."

First you make it sound like Vioxx decreases intestinal bleeding, when it doesn't, because you didn't say anything about it being in comparison to another drug. Second, just because Vioxx causes less intestinal bleeding than another drug, that doesn't mean it somehow "equaled" the increased fatality. Do you have a link to this study you rely upon or have I missed it earlier in the thread?
posted by fleacircus at 8:34 AM on August 20, 2005


Well, I was going off my memory but a simple google yielded the study that precipitated everyone's concern. In this study the cardiovascular risk was higher for vioxx over naproxen. But it held a two fold less risk for gastrointestinal events.

Most tellingly overall mortality "were similar" for both drugs.

Merck developed a good drug for people at increased risk for gastrointestinal bleeding. It's a shame it's off the market. People are dying as a result of this unfortunate reaction to predatory lawyers.
posted by paleocon at 8:53 AM on August 20, 2005


Simple solution: We grant companies limited liability for free. Why? Why not charge them more for it? Here is a fair price tag: 50% of board of directors should be publicly ellected, and basically all company documents should be made public. If you want to risk the damages from such suite being passed on to stock holders, fine don't bother with limited liability. If you want big favors from the public, you should have to pay for them.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:54 AM on August 20, 2005


paleocon, thanks for the link. Does that one statement from the single 9-month study really allow you to dismiss the other studies (mentioned here in the second section) ?
posted by fleacircus at 9:26 AM on August 20, 2005


Yes fleacircus, it does. First, David Graham is a kook. Second, did you notice that David Graham never talks about overall mortality? He only talks about injury due to one specific cause. And then he extrapolates to the moon.

I recall reading that mortality due to gastrointestinal bleeding from NSAIDS is 50,000 a year in the US. Why don't we hear more about that? And no, I'm not googling for the reference.
posted by paleocon at 9:58 AM on August 20, 2005


the cardiovascular risk was higher for vioxx over naproxen. But it held a two fold less risk for gastrointestinal events.

Most tellingly overall mortality "were similar" for both drugs.

Merck developed a good drug for people at increased risk for gastrointestinal bleeding. It's a shame it's off the market. People are dying as a result of this unfortunate reaction to predatory lawyers.


If it is that simple and straightforward, then I would say the insurance company lawyers are the lawyers we should be criticizing for losing in such spectacular fashion.

Unless of course there is some truth to the suggestion that the judge was pro-plaintiff.
posted by Cletis at 12:55 PM on August 20, 2005


The issue in all cases like this is what did Merk know, when did they know it and when did they reveal it. If they had been completely open with the negative research results as they were coming in we wouldn't be having this discussion today.
posted by caddis at 1:38 PM on August 20, 2005


The information that paleocon casually leaves out is that people who take other NSAIDS are told of the potential for gastrointestinal bleeding, whereas Merck lied for four years about the heart damage caused by Vioxx. In the trials paleocon refers to, for example, they claimed that the difference in heart attacks was because the naproxen was somehow preventing heart attacks, despite the fact that it has never been shown to do any such thing before or since. Investigations have revealed that Merck knew about the problems with Vioxx as early as 2000, and just didn't bother to mention it.

So, I say sue the bastards. I'm not crying for poor, poor Merck.
posted by kyrademon at 6:39 PM on August 20, 2005


Not for Merck, it's not. $25mil is a shitload of money to you or I. To Big pharma, it's a drop in the bloody bucket.

Which is too bad, because the whole point of punitive damages is to punish wrongdoers whose conduct meets a specified standard of outrageousness or maliciousness, not to bring a financial windfall to a plaintiff. Capping damages so as not to hurt defendants turns punitive damages into "extra compensatory damages," which is exactly what tort reformers are always complaining those greedy plaintiffs lawyers are trying to do anyway!
posted by jennyb at 8:26 PM on August 20, 2005


Kyrademon, Merck didn't hide data about heart risk. The risk was no secret in the industry and the matter of extensive debate among scientists. Merck pulled the drug when the data for heart risk finally reached statistical significance. Remember, Merck funded these studies that finally led to the drug's recall. Even then, balanced against the benefit, Vioxx should not have been pulled.

Almost any drug in development today would be halted if held to the standard you propose. So, I say die of disease with no cure. I'm not crying for some poor poor lefty who hates large companies out of general principle.
posted by paleocon at 9:41 AM on August 21, 2005


Clear Thinking About Vioxx
The risk is not what you think
The facts are these: (1) Vioxx, like almost all drugs, carries it own risks but also has substantial benefits for many patients, (2) some members of the media, in particular, CBS, have distorted the facts about Vioxx and about Merck, and (3) there is no evidence that Merck broke any law or even that it acted in any way irresponsibly.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 3:10 PM on August 21, 2005


Clear Thinking About Iraq
The risk is not what you think


The facts are these: (1) Iraq, like almost all wars, carries it own risks but also has substantial benefits for many investors, (2) some members of the media, in particular, CBS, have distorted the facts about Iraq and about Bush, and (3) there is no evidence that Bush broke any law or even that he acted in any way irresponsibly.

Say, Steve, I think you stumbled on a winning spin there. It seems interchangable with whatever subject you care to plug in.
Nice one!
posted by Balisong at 4:20 PM on August 21, 2005


Balisong, did you even follow the link? Ignoring the fact that Vioxx has nothing to do with Iraq, the Reason crew is hardly in lockstep with Bush & Co regarding Iraq.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 4:31 PM on August 21, 2005


I'm just saying, what you linked, from their article, is a catchall cover-your-ass, deny responsibility statement. It fits if O.J. was talking about his wife, and it works if I am trying to fib about my taxes.

I'm just saying, thet when I see such a catchall, I get suspicious.
posted by Balisong at 5:14 PM on August 21, 2005


Just to close off a personal loose end:

caddis, your entire response ignores the relevant, tortious facts. McD's kept their coffee extremely hot, hotter than coffee available from equivalent outlets; the corporation had received prior notice of the adverse effects of this elevated temperature; the corporation continued to maintain this elevated temperature as its standard; this elevated temperature harmed the plaintiff. You're free, of course, to gorge yourself on all the irrelevant and ancillary notions that occur to you. The facts, as I specified, were upheld by the appeals court.

I also notice that you slid right on by my response to your assertion that Texans generally are just waiting to stick it to The Man. I'll take this as a tacit agreement that you won't ever again indulge your ignorance via stereotyping.
posted by vetiver at 6:06 PM on August 21, 2005


Try reading the article before spouting off.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 6:06 PM on August 21, 2005


You Merck deniers can say all you want but were you on the jury? Oops, sorry, your opinion didn't count. Guess what, the jury thought that Merck hid, or at least did not reveal in timely fashion, the negative results. Face it, Merck was slow to reveal the negative data.

Looks bad no? However, think about what you would have done if you were a Merck scientist. this negative data was far from definitive. It was statistically significant, and even that is contested, and nothing more. Do you rush to consumers with this news when it might be an anomaly, it might not mean anything? When are you sure you have a problem, and when Merck was that sure did they delay? Who really knows?
posted by caddis at 6:13 PM on August 21, 2005


So what if McDonald's coffee was hotter than others? It was not hotter than coffee drinkers like it. Did that make it less safe? Perhaps, but so what? That does not make them liable for your mistake of spilling it on yourself. Get a clue. If you don't know that hot coffee is dangerous than you should crawl into a cave and stay there. You don't deserve to go to McDonald's for food ( and that is just about the lowest standard one can think of).

The juries in South Texas are notorious as some of the most plaintiff friendly in the country. You can deny it, but you would be pissing out your ass.
posted by caddis at 6:22 PM on August 21, 2005


I didn't propose any standard, paleocon. I never said drugs should carry no risks. I do think Merck lied about, concealed, and obfuscated the risks of Vioxx, and they should be sued for that. You disagree. Not once did I ever even imply whether I thought Vioxx should be on or off the market.

So, if I must die of a curable disease, I hope you choke to death on your bilious preconceptions regarding the beliefs of those who disagree with you.
posted by kyrademon at 7:01 PM on August 21, 2005


You Merck deniers can say all you want but were you on the jury? Oops, sorry, your opinion didn't count.

Yes, as we all know... being on a jury renders you unable to make mistakes.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 9:28 PM on August 21, 2005


Steve, did your Pharma-mutual fund take a dive, or what?
posted by Balisong at 5:52 PM on August 22, 2005


caddis -- Sweetie, you're flailing.

I understand that you have deeply held personal opinions about who does and does not deserve to eat at McDonald's. Sadly, your fascinating and rigorously fair universe has only one inhabitant. And so, back here in the real world, we're reduced to dealing with facts as established in multiple courts of law, in the non-ficticious world. And those courts of law have decreed your opinions worthless.

Re the "notorious" plaintiff-friendliness of South Texas juries -- citation, please. Considering your lightly sourced yet stridently voiced objections to legally established facts, I'm sure you'll forgive my skepticism.

And (apologies for bludgeoning you with empirical facts): You may not have realized that Angleton is just SW of Houston, which means Tom Delay's district was no doubt included in the jury pool. Are you thinking that Houston is a hotbed of socialist collectivism? Or maybe you thought DeLay was a rabid anti-corporation populist?

Or perhaps you were pissin out your ass.
posted by vetiver at 8:44 PM on August 22, 2005


Texas ranks 44th in fairness according to the US Chamber of Commerce, that is fairness to business. Even the news reports of the Vioxx decision called the venue plaintiff-friendly.
posted by caddis at 8:24 AM on August 23, 2005


James Hamilton's take, which probably deserves its own FPP.
posted by Kwantsar at 12:44 PM on August 27, 2005


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