Ghostwriters Used in Vioxx Studies

Vioxx was a best-selling drug before Merck pulled it from the market in 2004 over evidence linking it to heart attacks. Last fall the company agreed to a $4.85 billion settlement to resolve tens of thousands of lawsuits filed by former Vioxx patients or their families.

The lead author of Wednesday’s article, Dr. Joseph S. Ross of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said a close look at the Merck documents raised broad questions about the validity of much of the drug industry’s published research, because the ghostwriting practice appears to be widespread.

“It almost calls into question all legitimate research that’s been conducted by the pharmaceutical industry with the academic physician,” Dr. Ross said, whose article, written with colleagues, was published Wednesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Assocation.

Testing a Legal Ideal In Vioxx Settlement

If you listen to brainy law professors who have been studying big injury cases, you will learn that lawyers no longer owe their clients a duty of loyalty. They say this approvingly, even enthusiastically.

The idea that lawyers must represent one client at a time, give independent advice, follow instructions and, in general, act with fierce and single-minded loyalty is, these professors say, a lovely idea but an outmoded one. It is something out of the Age of Chivalry, or at least the 20th century.

“Speaking of individualized notions of lawyer loyalty is sort of like the mindset of the French military in 1940,” said Richard A. Nagareda, a law professor at Vanderbilt and the author of a recent book called “Mass Torts in a World of Settlement.”

Professor Nagareda was speaking at a forum at the American Enterprise Institute this month, and he was explaining why a proposed $4.85 billion settlement of lawsuits concerning the painkiller Vioxx represents progress, even though the deal puts extraordinary pressure on the lawyer-client relationship.

Merck Agrees to Pay $4.85 Billion in Vioxx Claims

Three years after withdrawing its pain medication Vioxx from the market, Merck announced today that it will pay $4.85 billion to settle 27,000 lawsuits by people who contend they or their family members suffered injury or died after taking the drug.

The settlement, one of the largest ever in civil litigation, comes after nearly 20 Vioxx civil trials over the last two years from New Jersey to California. After losing a $253 million verdict in the first case, Merck has won most of the rest of the cases that reached juries, giving plaintiffs little choice but to settle.

The settlement will help put Vioxx behind Merck, as well as sharply reduce its Vioxx-related legal defense fees, which are now running at more than $600 million annually.

Judges in Louisiana, New Jersey and California, who oversee nearly all the lawsuits, had pressed for a deal before a new wave of trials was scheduled to begin in January.

Plaintiffs will receive different settlement payments depending on the severity of their injuries and the length of time they took Vioxx. The deal becomes binding only if 85 percent of all plaintiffs agree to drop their cases and take the deal.

Based on the fact that the 27,000 suits cover about 47,000 sets of plaintiffs, the average plaintiff will receive just more than $100,000 before legal fees and expenses, which usually swallow 30 percent to 50 percent of payments to plaintiffs. Plaintiffs who do not want to accept the settlement can pursue their own claims, but with so many of the top trial lawyers in the United States agreeing to the deal, they may have difficulty doing so.

Merck Agrees to Settle Vioxx Suits for $4.85 Billion

Three years after withdrawing its pain medication Vioxx from the market, Merck has agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle 27,000 lawsuits by people who claim they or their family members suffered injury or died after taking the drug, according to two lawyers with direct knowledge of the matter.

The settlement, one of the largest ever in civil litigation, comes after nearly 20 Vioxx civil trials over the last two years from New Jersey to California. After losing a $253 million verdict in the first case, Merck has won most of the rest of the cases that reached juries, giving plaintiffs little choice but to settle.

The settlement will help put Vioxx behind Merck, as well as sharply reduce its Vioxx-related legal defense fees, which are now running at more than $600 million annually.

Judges in Louisiana, New Jersey and California, who oversee nearly all the lawsuits, had pressed for a deal before a new wave of trials was scheduled to begin in January.

The agreement could still collapse, though lawyers with knowledge of the deal said that was unlikely. The deal becomes binding only if 85 percent of all plaintiffs agree to drop their cases and take the deal.

Plaintiffs will receive different settlement payments depending on the severity of their injuries and the length of time they took Vioxx.

Plaintiffs Find Payday Elusive in Vioxx Cases

In Carol Ernst’s eyes, two years ago she won a measure of justice.

On Aug. 19, 2005, a Texas jury awarded Mrs. Ernst $253.5 million after concluding that Merck & Company and its painkiller Vioxx had caused the death of her husband, Robert, in 2001. At a news conference after the verdict, Mrs. Ernst said she was pleased that jurors had punished Merck for hiding Vioxx’s heart risks. “This has been a long road,” she said. “I just know that it was a road that I had to run and I had to finish.”

But her comfort was premature. Merck, the third-largest American drug maker, appealed the verdict — which Texas laws on punitive damages automatically reduced to $26.1 million. Until higher courts rule on the appeal, Merck is not obligated to pay. So Mrs. Ernst, 62, has yet to receive any money.

In fact, none of the 45,000 people who have sued Merck, contending that they or their loved ones suffered heart attacks or strokes after taking Vioxx, have received payments from the company. The lawsuits continue, for now in a state of legal limbo, with little prospect of resolution.

In combating the litigation, Merck has made an aggressive, and so far successful, bet that forcing plaintiffs to trial will reduce the number of Vioxx lawsuits and, ultimately, its liability.

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