Thursday, January 10, 2008
As the first January 14 deadline looms, the Wall Street Journal reports that "it looks highly likely enough plaintiffs will sign on to seal the deal." Here are a few key excerpts from the article:
More than 28,000 of the estimated 60,800 claimants have submitted registration information so far, according to Andy Birchfield, a partner with Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C. in Montgomery, Ala., and one of the plaintiffs' attorneys who negotiated the settlement. He believes the rest will do so by Jan. 15.
. . .
A more crucial deadline comes Feb. 29, when the estimated 45,000 plaintiffs with heart-attack and stroke cases that qualify for the settlement must enroll. To validate the pact, at least 85% of those must enroll. Mr. Birchfield says a strong turnout next week would indicate that threshold will be met.
But law firms representing thousands of plaintiffs have filed court papers contesting the clause that would require lawyers participating in the settlement to recommend it to all clients who qualify. They say it violates professional-ethics codes that require lawyers to give every client their "independent professional judgment." One of these motions, filed by lawyers from Missouri and Illinois, is scheduled for a hearing Jan. 18 before U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon of New Orleans, who is overseeing the settlement. Another motion by lawyers from Kentucky and Indiana hasn't yet been set for a hearing.
. . .
Some plaintiffs are concerned their lawyers have been co-opted into recommending the deal.
Virginia Pickett, a 55-year-old former blackjack dealer, says she suffered a heart attack in 2002 after having used Vioxx for three years. She says she lost her job after the heart attack and has paid more than $200,000 in medical bills. Ms. Pickett, of Baltimore, estimates the settlement would pay her about $530,000, but says she is entitled to three times that. "I won't be browbeaten into taking this settlement," she says.
The law firm that represents her, Levin Simes Kaiser & Gornick LLP of San Francisco, recently sent her a letter stating its "strong recommendation" that she participate, detailing the challenges she would face taking on Merck in court.
A letter very similar to the one sent by Levin Simes is posted at officialvioxxsettlement.com, a Web site sponsored by the lead plaintiffs' firms, leading Ms. Pickett to suspect her lawyers didn't take her particular situation into account. "If they tell me they won't represent me because I'm dropping out, that is malfeasance," she says.
Partner William Levin says his firm is familiar with each client's case. He says the firm recommends that clients take a "hard look" at the settlement, but that it will stick by any who object. "We're happy to continue representing anyone who doesn't go forward with the deal," he says.
It is impossible to gauge the precise number of hold-out plaintiffs, or to determine if there are enough to scotch the deal. A small band of them have formed discussion groups online to share information. The Fort Lauderdale-based Kelley/Uustal Law Firm, which doesn't have significant experience with Vioxx cases, has offered to represent plaintiffs who opt out, and has been retained by fewer than 10 so far.
The full article is available here (subscription required). Wall Street Journal Law Blog also has a post today titled "Are Reports of Vioxx Litigation's Death Exaggerated?" It concludes:
Even if the all-or-none clause is eventually dropped, analysts believe the settlement deal would still leave Merck better off as long as the vast majority of cases settle. Says Peter Bicks, a product liability lawyer who isn’t involved in the Vioxx litigaiton: "If you get this down to less than 1,000 cases, [Merck] can manage that."
I haven't seen any recent figures on the number of foreign plaintiffs. Should you see any, let me know!