'Jaw death' suit filed against Merck

David Yates Dec. 13, 2007, 4:44am

A Houston law firm has filed a searing "jaw death" lawsuit against Merck, alleging the drug manufacturer knew its medication Fosamax was defective from the start and, in spite of the dangers, went so far as to bribe physicians to prescribe the drug.

Representing Coye Holman, a Mississippi resident, and local resident Charlette Burns, attorney Richard Laminack of the Laminack, Pirtle & Martines law firm filed the suit in the Jefferson County District Court on Dec. 12, claiming Fosamax, a medication designed to treat thinning bones, instead caused permanent bone decay.

This is the second suit against Merck filed by the law firm in four months. The first lawsuit, Sandra Cooper et al vs. Merck & Co. Inc., was filed on Aug. 23.

Fosamax is a bisphosphonate that works to correct osteoporosis by reducing the activity of the cells that cause bone loss, increasing the amount of bone in most patients, according to the Merck Web site.

"Osteoporosis is often called a 'silent disease' because there are no symptoms, so you can't feel your bones become weak," the Web site said. "Sometimes, women will not know they have osteoporosis until a bone breaks."

In their suit, the plaintiffs allege Fosamax is "defective, dangerous to human health, unfit and unsuitable to be marketed and sold in commerce and lacked the proper warnings as to the dangers associated with its ingestion."

The suit also alleges Merck pharmaceutical reps bribed physicians to prescribe Fosamax, and that the company knew of the medication's dangerous side effect but "maliciously" marketed the drug anyway.

By taking Fosamax the plaintiffs claim they developed osteonecrosis of the jaw, the suit said.

Better known as "jaw death," osteonecrosis of the jaw is a disfiguring and disabling condition in which the bones of the jaw "die" from infection.

"ONJ develops when the jaw fails to heal after minor trauma such as a tooth extraction that results in bone exposure," the MediaFact Web site states.

Merck did not list ONJ as a possible side effect on its Web site. However, lawsuits against Merck and other bisphosphonate manufactures have been sprouting up across the nation.

"The drug Fosamax was defective in design or formulation in that, when it left the hands of the manufacture, the foreseeable risks far exceeded the benefits associated with the design or formulation," the suit said.

The eight-count suit faults Merck with strict product liability, negligence, misrepresentation and fraud, civil conspiracy and commercial bribery, breach of implied warranty, breach of implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose, breach of express warranty and gross negligence/malice.

The plaintiffs are suing for exemplary and punitive damages, plus past and future physical pain, lost wages, mental anguish, medical expenses, impairment and disfigurement.

They are demanding a trial by jury.

Judge Milton Shuffield, 136th Judicial District, will preside over the case.

Case No. D180-886

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