Vioxx and Merck: Sunday update

Susan’s Scribblings
“All the drugs advertised in print and on television bring out the side effects and possible risks, and no doctor should prescribe a drug without discussing the ups and downs of its use with the patient. Perhaps the unfortunate victim’s heart attack was actually unrelated to Vioxx–heck, some of the healthiest people can drop dead for no apparent reason–but based on what I’ve read and seen, this recent lawsuit “victory” may well be the start of a reversal in our ability to study, develop and heal through the good efforts of the drug companies.

My sympathies go to the widow of the man who died, but I also grieve for Merck and hope they can continue to work to produce drugs that help and heal, for people who appreciate what medicine can and cannot achieve.”

Greg’s Opinion:
“As for the notion that this hurts more people than it helps by prohibiting companies from producing new drugs, color me doubtful. I just don’t buy it when apologists for big companies claim we’re all going to hell in a handbasket if we don’t cave to said company’s demands for maximum immunity. Nor do I accept it as a given that we should live with a statistical probability of X deaths per Y prescriptions. Apparently, the apologist crowd would stipulate this coldhearted reality as a necessity. It isn’t. If a company can’t find a means to survive in a business environment that says ‘when you take shortcuts that cost people’s lives, you pay for it’ then they don’t deserve to be in business. Last I checked, after all, there were ample cars on the streets today despite Ford being held liable for their disasterous Pinto design. Those of us who do cling to social responsibility as a responsible ideal aren’t out to kill off all business … rather to rid the ones who have no good cause to put people’s lives and well-being at risk. Merck, ultimately, may or may not fall into that category … they obviously have no problem producing numerous drugs that do the world a lot of good. And more power to them. But they may well need the wakeup call of this verdict (and it’s successors) to ensure a better way to produce a safer product.”

NY Times: For Merck, Vioxx Paper Trail Won’t Go Away:
“As Merck examines its defeat in Texas, it may be tempted to blame its problems on the ineptitude of its lawyers, who committed basic mistakes like failing to prepare witnesses and badgering Mrs. Ernst, a sympathetic widow, for 90 minutes on cross-examination.

Merck may tell itself that the part of Texas where the case was heard is favorable to plaintiffs and that the trial might have turned out differently elsewhere. It might even say that W. Mark Lanier, the Houston lawyer who represented Mrs. Ernst, is so skilled that he won a case that most other plaintiffs’ lawyers would not even imagine bringing.”

“The verdict was hardly surprising. As reported here, the plaintiff’s case featured resentment-mongering against executive pay and corporate profits, and exploitation of the average lay jury’s innumeracy. For example, responding to witness Gilmartin’s argument that the results of a study showing Vioxx users had six episodes of heart attacks or strokes to one for placebo users were not statistically significant, the lawyer asked:

have you got $6 on you? I’m going to give you a dollar and you give me the six. It is not statistically significant in the difference. What do you think, are you in or out?”

A Stitch in Haste:
“Forget the fact that the punitive damages award is per se excessive under Texas law.

Forget the fact that the ‘victim’ in the Texas case (the plaintiff was his widow) died from a cardiac condition that has never been linked to Vioxx.

Forget the fact that the plaintiff had only been married to the victim for one year.

A jury has made its decision (by a vote of 10-2; had this been a federal court that would have meant a judgment for the defendant “” federal civil verdicts must be unanimous).

I sat on the fence regarding professional jurors before this case. Now there can be no doubt. In civil cases where a minimum quantum of intelligence and education are required to evaluate the facts and apply the law, and where enough damages are at stake to preclude future plaintiffs from having their day in court because moron ‘send a message’ juries issue awards that would bankrupt a defendant long before other plaintiffs have time to even draft a complaint, we must either have professional jurors or raise the standards for jury service high enough to keep morons off the jury pool altogether.”

“By the way, if you would like to see one reason why the plaintiff won and Merck lost, take a look at the video of the plaintiff’s lawyer v. the video of Merck’s lawyer. (Both on the W$J site.) If you were a juror, who looks like he is on the side of truth and justice?”

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