Saturday, May 31, 2008
Editorial in the Wall Street Journal -- Vindicating Vioxx. Here's an excerpt:
Texas and New Jersey may have different political cultures, but appeals courts in both states this week delivered a one-two punch to the liability suits against Merck for its Vioxx painkiller. In Texas, a court overturned a $26 million 2005 jury verdict against the drug company, while New Jersey's court whittled down an earlier verdict to exonerate Merck from a finding of consumer fraud and eliminate punitive damages.
The rulings are evidence that some sanity still exists in the tort system – at least at the appellate level. In Texas, the court's Chief Justice Adele Hedges said there was "no evidence" that the patient had suffered a cardiovascular event as the result of a blood clot or that Vioxx was in any way related to the death. Those are strong words for a case that the trial bar had celebrated as the start of a huge payday.
At the beginning of the Vioxx hysteria, some analysts predicted Merck's liability could spiral as high as $30 billion, threatening the company itself. Last year, Merck settled most of the cases for $4.85 billion. But since Vioxx was taken off the market in 2004, only three of the 20 suits that have gone to juries have ended favorably for plaintiffs. There were other reality checks along the way: Vioxx plaintiffs were denied class-action status in a federal court in 2006, and by the New Jersey Supreme Court last year.