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.
Friday, May 30, 2008
Article in the Houston Chronicle -- Court tosses Vioxx award: Houston panel rules plaintiff will get none of the $26 million, by Mary Flood. Here's an excerpt in which I'm quoted:
A Houston appellate court Thursday overturned a $26 million Angleton jury finding that a 59-year-old triathlete died because of his use of the popular painkiller Vioxx.
The 14th Texas Court of Appeals ruled that Bob Ernst's widow, Carol Ernst, should receive nothing because the more than one month of testimony in the nation's first Vioxx trial contained insufficient evidence to prove the drug caused his heart problem and death.
The ruling on the 2005 trial came the same day a New Jersey court struck down most of a 2006 jury verdict against Vioxx maker Merck & Co.
Earlier this month, an appellate court in San Antonio overturned a $32 million jury award to a widow in South Texas who claimed her husband died of a heart attack because of Vioxx.
Los Angeles-based Southwestern Law School professor Byron Stier, who writes about cases like the Vioxx suits, said that though these big cases are all different, Merck's success with trying many cases and keeping the damage contained will be a lesson to others.
Merck saved about $40 million in damages and attorneys fees in just these two decisions Thursday.
"A mass tort that could have bankrupted Merck has become manageable," Stier said.
AmLaw Daily has a related post, Mark Lanier's Faith Tested: He Loses Two Vioxx Appeals in One Day, by Andrew Longstreth. Here's a roundup of media coverage from the Wall Street Journal Health Blog.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
The ABA's Mass Torts Litigation Committee has posted its Spring 2008 Newsletter, which includes the following articles:
Foreign Torts and the Commerce Clause: Territorial Limitations On State Power To Impose Punitive Damages, by William E. Thomson (Gibson Dunn)
Public Nuisance Update: This Dog is Still Barking, by Charles H. Moellenberg, Jr., Lisa G. Silverman, and Laura E. Ellsworth (all of Jones Day)
Climate Change Litigation: When and Where Will the Next Storm Hit, by Christopher R. Reeves (Swift Currie)
Shining a Spotlight on Stipulated Class Counsel Fee Awards—The Trend Toward Greater Judicial Scrutiny, by Christopher H. Angins (Holland & Knight)
Three Rules for Young Lawyers, by Christopher G. Campbell (DLA Piper)
Article in the Wall Street Journal -- Pfizer Seeks to Counter Chantix Concerns, by Alicia Mundy and Avery Johnson. Here's an excerpt:
Pfizer Inc. is preparing an advertising and public-relations campaign to counter concerns about its antismoking drug Chantix, once trumpeted as a potential billion-dollar-a-year blockbuster.
Chantix is drawing scrutiny from federal regulators and a tough congressional critic of the pharmaceutical industry following revelations about potentially dangerous adverse events such as heart irregularities, seizures and more than 100 accidents linked to use of the drug.
An important issue is whether Chantix is effective at dosage levels that are safe for its users. This was a concern for FDA researchers prior to the drug's approval, according to agency records.
Amy Schulman, who heads the mass tort/class action practice at DLA Piper, will be the next general counsel at Pfizer. Ms. Schulman lead the Celebrex and Bextra litigations for Pfizer (see WSJ blog and article), and was also the subject of a Harvard Business School case study entitled, Leadership in Law: Amy Schulman at DLA Piper. For more, see this post from AmLaw Daily.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Article in AmLaw Daily -- Defending Mel Weiss, by Ben Hallman. Here's an excerpt:
Mother Teresa, move aside. Melvyn Weiss, a plaintiffs lawyer who made millions of dollars by suing corporate America--and who recently pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy for paying kickbacks to clients in many of those cases--deserves recognition as "one of the greatest humanitarians of our time," according to a sentencing memo his lawyer filed Friday.
The table of contents sets the tone for the memo, which is effusive in its praise of Weiss. "The scope of the charity and generosity of Melvyn Weiss is breathtaking," reads the header to one section. Weiss has a "compulsion" to make the world a better place, reads another. He is also "spontaneously kind," the memo says.
On March 17, Weiss signed a plea deal calling for a sentence of 18-33 months, admitting that he "engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity" for at least 26 years. In a subsequent memo to the court, prosecutors asked California district court judge John Walter to sentence Weiss to the full 33 months. The Weiss memo, filed by attorney Benjamin Brafman, pleads for leniency. "The shame Mr. Weiss has suffered and will continue to suffer is overwhelming," it says. "To be candid, it is difficult to imagine a greater punishment than the punishment that has already been imposed by the public humiliation...as he now deals with the prospect of incarceration and the indignity of disbarment."
Monday, May 26, 2008
Article in the L.A. Times -- Pet food companies OK $24-million settlement, by the Associated Press. Here's an excerpt:
Companies that were sued over contaminated pet food linked to the deaths of perhaps thousands of dogs and cats have agreed to pay $24 million to pet owners in the United States and Canada.
The settlement is detailed in papers filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court in Camden, N.J. It still needs a judge's approval; a court hearing is set for May 30.
"The settlement attempts to reimburse pet owners for all of their economic damages," said Russell Paul, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
AmLaw Daily provides more detail in its post, Massive Pet Food Recall Lawsuit Settles, by Andrew Longstreth. Here's a link to the joint motion filed for certification and approval of the class settlement.