First Vioxx lawsuit in Texas has huge implications for Merck

There is a lot at stake for Merck in the Vioxx lawsuits.

The first Vioxx trial is set to start in Texas. Analyst says Merck’s liability could hit $25 billion.

One Wall Street analyst, Chris Shibutani at J.P. Morgan Securities, estimated that Merck’s liabilities from Vioxx range from $8 billion to $25 billion, far higher than the $4 billion to $18 billion estimated by Merrill Lynch analyst David Risinger in November. Shibutani rates the company “neutral.”

“The first case has a lot of impact on what comes afterward,” Chip Babcock, a partner at Houston law firm Jackson Walker LLP, told Reuters. Babcock said the lawsuit could influence impending litigation in state courts in New Jersey, California and Texas, as well as the U.S. federal court in New Orleans, the news agency reported.

Merck pulled Vioxx, a $2.5 billion arthritis painkiller, off the market on Sept. 30, 2004, in response to concerns the medication could cause heart attacks and stroke. The company, however, has never conceded there were risks. Since the recall, more than 2,300 lawsuits have been filed against the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based company by more than 4,600 plaintiffs. Jury selection got underway Monday in the first civil trial at Texas Superior Court before Judge Ben Hardin.

Carol Ernst has sued Merck in the Angleton, Texas court and blames the company for the 2001 death of her husband, a Vioxx patient. Her lawyer, W. Mark Lanier of Houston, said that Vioxx caused the fatal cardiac arrhythmia of Robert Ernst and that Merck suppressed information about the dangers of the drug.

“I believe they took the three monkey approach,” said Lanier on Friday. “They covered their eyes because they didn’t want to see anything that would hurt the sale of Vioxx, they covered their ears because they didn’t want to hear anything that would hurt the sale of Vioxx, and they covered their mouth because they certainly didn’t want to say anything that would hurt the sale of Vioxx.”

Merck has consistently denied charges that Vioxx caused deaths, on the grounds that these charges have never been proven. Merck has also denied allegations that it concealed information, noting that the company voluntarily withdrew Vioxx from the market.

Evidence in Vioxx Suits Shows Intervention by Merck Officials

In 2000, amid rising concerns that its painkiller Vioxx posed heart risks, Merck overruled one of its own scientists after he suggested that a patient in a clinical trial had probably died of a heart attack.

In an e-mail exchange about Vioxx, the company’s most important new drug at the time, a senior Merck scientist repeatedly urged the researcher to change his views about the death “so that we don’t raise concerns.” In later reports to the Food and Drug Administration and in a paper published in 2003, Merck listed the cause of death as “unknown” for the patient, a 73-year-old woman.

The discussion of the death is contained in several previously undisclosed Merck records, including e-mail messages from Dr. Edward M. Scolnick, Merck’s top scientist from 1985 until 2002, and from Dr. Alise S. Reicin, a vice president for clinical research, that indicate Merck’s concerns about data contradicting its view that Vioxx was safe.

In one e-mail message, Dr. Scolnick said the drug trial that included the woman’s death had “put us in a terrible situation.” In others, he fiercely criticized the F.D.A. and said he would personally pressure senior officials at the agency if it took action unfavorable to Vioxx.

Church allowed abuse by priest for years

This is the full, original, first article that was published by The Boston Globe Spotlight Team to expose rampant child sexual abuse by pedophile Catholic priests in Boston, MA, and the massive, decades-long cover-up efforts by the Catholic church to protect them.

Since the mid-1990s, more than 130 people have come forward with horrific childhood tales about how former priest John J. Geoghan allegedly fondled or raped them during a three-decade spree through a half-dozen Greater Boston parishes.

Almost always, his victims were grammar school boys. One was just 4 years old.

Then came last July’s disclosure that Cardinal Bernard F. Law knew about Geoghan’s problems in 1984, Law’s first

Airbags called a threat to short women and children

When Susan Hayes, 29, skidded off the road into a drainage ditch in June, the air bag in her Mazda Miata slammed into her head and broke her neck.

The 5-foot-2-inch Baltimore woman spent six weeks in a coma and eight weeks in intensive care. She says she was wearing a seat belt in the crash.

“Without the air bag, I would have walked away,” she said last week. Her 4-year-old son was belted in the front passenger seat — which did not have an air bag — and did walk away.

While the risk that air bags pose to children has attracted national attention, that danger has overshadowed the fact that bags also can injure and kill adults, particularly short women.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has warned for some time that women, especially those over 70 who may be frail, are among the adults most at risk of being killed by air bags.

But younger adults also face a serious risk of being injured or killed by explosively powerful air bags, a review of federal safety records indicates.

The analysis shows that of 19 adults whose deaths were blamed on air bags, 12 were under age 57. Fifteen of the adults who died were female drivers who sat close to the steering wheel so they could reach the pedals. All were 5 feet 4 inches tall or shorter.

Some men may be at risk, too. Three male drivers between 5 feet 8 inches and 6 feet tall were killed by bags. One may have died because his overweight frame left him too close to the air bag. A heart attack and a seizure may have caused two others to slump into deploying air bags.

The toll of death and injuries is probably much higher, automakers and safety officials fear.

No one is tracking injuries caused by bags. And deaths of adults from air bags are likely to have been underreported, partly because the NHTSA has focused for more than a year on reducing the deaths of children from air bags.

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