April 19, 2007
Merck Profit Jumps, Vioxx Lawsuits Decline Slightly
Article in the Washington Post -- Merck Net Jumps 12 Percent, by Linda A. Johnson of the Associated Press. Here's an excerpt:
Merck & Co. Inc. said Thursday its first-quarter profit jumped 12 percent, as the drugmaker posted sharply higher sales of its asthma and cholesterol drugs, plus one-time gains from product divestitures.
Meanwhile, the number of personal injury lawsuits in the massive litigation over the painkiller Vioxx, which Merck withdrew from the market in September 2004 due to increased risk of heart attack and stroke, declined slightly for the first time.
Merck said it now faces 27,250 personal injury lawsuits over Vioxx, including 45,700 plaintiff groups. That's actually down slightly from the 27,400 Merck reported in January. The company said more than 4,600 lawsuits had been dismissed as of March 31, although 3,550 of them could be refiled later.
Merck also has agreements with 13,700 claimants halting the statute of limitations for them to sue. The company has been fighting lawsuits individually, and in cases that have reached verdicts, it has won 10 and lost five.
10 Years for Louis Robles
Article in today's Daily Business Review -- Asbestos Attorney Accepts 10-Year Term in Plea Deal:
Louis Robles, a nationally prominent Miami plaintiffs attorney who was charged with stealing millions of dollars from thousands of asbestos clients nationwide, has accepted a plea deal that calls for him to serve 10 years in prison and provide full restitution to his victims.
According to sources within the U.S. Attorney's office in Miami, Robles, 59, accepted the plea deal Monday. He is scheduled to appear Friday before U.S. District Judge Alan Gold to enter a guilty plea.
The plea deal is the latest chapter in the spectacular fall of the class action and mass tort lawyer, who was a star in the South Florida legal community. Robles at one time had 40 lawyers on his staff and more than 12,000 class action clients around the country. He focused on asbestos cases, traveling around the country in a van with a doctor and X-ray machine, signing up clients and advertising on national television.
In 2002, the Daily Business Review was the first to report on a four-year investigation into Robles by the Florida Bar. The Bar had received numerous complaints about Robles paying clients little or nothing on their asbestos settlements, charging contingency fees of more than 50 percent and having clients pay for his airfare, food, phone bills and other costs not previously disclosed. He abruptly closed his downtown Miami office in 2002 and soon after filed for bankruptcy.
Robles was disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court in May 2003. About a year later, the Review disclosed that a federal grand jury was looking into an indictment against Robles. ...
April 17, 2007
Charleston Law School Conference on Punitive Damages, Due Process, and Deterrence -- The Debate After Williams
On Friday, September 7, 2007, Charleston School of Law is hosting a conference entitled, "Punitive Damages, Due Process, and Deterrence: The Debate After Williams." Confirmed panelists include Theodore Boutrous (Gibson Dunn), Elizabeth Cabraser (Lieff Cabraser), Robin Conrad (US Chamber of Commerce), Thoedore Eisenberg (Cornell), Andrew Frey (Mayer, Brown), Murray Garnick (Arnold & Porter), Lauren Rosenblum Goldman (Mayer, Brown), John Gotanda (Villanova), Laura Hines (Kansas), Keith Hylton (Boston U.), John Mulderig (Altria), Robert Peck (Center for Constitutional Litigation), Steve Rissman (Altria), Michael Rustad (Suffolk), Victor Schwartz (Shook, Hardy), Anthony Sebok (Brooklyn), Catherine Sharkey (Columbia), Neil Vidmar (Duke), and Judge William Wilkins (4th Cir.). I will be the moderator for a panel on the relationship between punitive damages and class actions. The conference chair is Professor Sheila Scheuerman of Charleston School of Law.
Texas Vioxx Judge Plans to Dismiss Failure-To-Warn Claim
According to this article in the Houston Chronicle -- Judge Casts Doubt on Vioxx Point -- Texas judge Randy Wilson plans to dismiss Ruby Ledbetter's failure to warn claim against Merck, while allowing her to proceed on other claims such as negligence and product defect. Judge Wilson has all of the Texas state court Vioxx cases, so the ruling has broad implications:
If a Harris County judge is right, a 2003 Texas law could not only gut the nearly 900 Vioxx cases pending in this state, but it could raise the bar for pharmaceutical cases of any kind here.
State District Judge Randy Wilson, who oversees all state Vioxx claims, told lawyers in the case of Ruby Ledbetter versus Merck & Co. that he plans to issue an order later this week to dismiss a part of her case. She was due to go to trial in May and be the next jury test of a user of the painkiller claiming it caused serious side effects that they weren't warned about — in her case a heart attack.
Her lawyer, Tommy Fibich, said the judge plans to put all the state Vioxx cases in limbo until he hears from the appellate courts about whether Texas law might keep the Vioxx users from claiming they weren't fairly warned. According to the court Web site, there are 888 Vioxx cases pending before Wilson.
Even if she loses on the issue of whether she was fairly warned of side effects, Ledbetter could still go to trial on other potentially harder to prove complaints — like that the company was negligent or the drug was defectively designed.
But the fair warning question is the one lawyers know resonates with juries.
The anticipated dismissal would be based on a 2003 Texas tort reform statute that creates a presumption of adequate warnings based on FDA approval. Although most of the nation's Vioxx cases are pending in New Jersey state court and in the federal MDL in New Orleans, Texas has played a significant role as well, with hundreds of pending claims and two of the most significant plaintiffs' victories to date.