Bad facts, bad verdict, good outcome--five years later

The SE Texas Record Sep. 2, 2011, 10:52am

Merck & Co. stopped selling Vioxx in 2004 because of its potential to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Its withdrawal from the market prompted thousands of users and alleged users of this anti-inflammatory drug to sue the company.

Talk about a stimulus package!

Not for Merck maybe, but for those plaintiffs and plaintiffs' attorneys across the rotting fruited plain who were looking for a shortcut to unearned riches.

Eventually, Merck set up a $4.85 billion settlement fund to handle qualified claims.

When their claim didn't qualify, the family of Leonel Garza of Texas filed suit, alleging that their patriarch died after taking Vioxx for a short time. In 2006, a jury awarded $32 million to his survivors.

A state appeals court subsequently ordered a new trial because of jury misconduct. Now, the Texas Supreme Court has overturned the award, concluding the Garza family presented "unreliable evidence."

In the Washington Examiner, Ted Frank of the Manhattan Institute's Center for Legal Policy, adds some salient details. Garza, he notes, "was a 71-year-old overweight smoker, with high cholesterol, decades of heart disease, and a history of a heart attack and a quadruple bypass."

Frank reports that "Garza never had a prescription for Vioxx." His family claims two physicians gave him samples of the drug, but both doctors dispute those claims.

"How could the jury possibly vote 10-2 against Merck based on such evidence?" Frank asks. "One possible reason was that Garza's widow had given one of the jurors an interest-free loan, and was in regular contact with him by cell phone during the trial."

At some point, we have to ask ourselves: Do we want more Mercks or do we want more Garzas?

Merck may have its faults, but it's a good company that makes good products that help people enjoy healthier lives, in the process providing employment to thousands of people.

What do we get from folks like the Garzas?

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