Medical Malpractice In The Pharmaceuticals - The Case Of Vioxx

Senator Schneiderman on Malpractice Bill

One of the biggest medical malpractice cases today is against the pharmaceutical giant Merck.

At one point over 80 million people had prescriptions to Vioxx. It is a member of a class of drugs called COX-2 Inhibitors. Other COX-2 Inhibitor drugs are still on the market, but doctors are warned to be careful in prescribing them to patients that have other heart attack and stroke susceptibilities.

The function of Vioxx was to reduce pain and inflammation, without causing gastro-intestinal problems. So in effect, it was a strong substitute for Aspirin, Tylenol and other such drugs. It was a drug of choice for many patients suffering arthritis.

Merck scientists ran trials for the drug Vioxx but apparently missed its ability to promote or even cause heart attacks. They compared it to another drug that they thought actually acted to protect AGAINST heart attacks.

Of course, a lot of the side effects are subtle. Millions of people did not get heart attacks from Vioxx, and many had no problems with it in any way.

However, statistically, it has been shown to create enough heart problems, that Merck voluntarily withdrew it from the market.

In recent court cases Merck has been hit hard in medical malpractice suits.

Merck had to pay $32 Million damages in a recent case in April 2006 in Texas. A. court in Rio Grande City, Texas, gave the family of Leonel Garza $7 million in compensatory damage and $25 million in punitive damages. Merck was sued by the family, which said that Vioxx led to his fatal heart attack in 2001.

A 77- year old New Jersey man, named John McDarby won a case in New Jersey against Merck, where Merck was ordered to pay $9 million in punitive damages. The jury found that taking Vioxx was a contributory cause of his heart attack from which he recovered, but nevertheless was crippled by.

Merck plans to appeal the case. Mr. McDarby had previously received an award of $4.5 million in compensatory damages. New Jersey law allows punitive damages to be five times the amount of compensatory damages.

Merck has faced six lawsuits so far, but could potentially face tens of thousands of lawsuits from millions of patients who had taken Vioxx. Most of these involve people who took Vioxx regularly for at least 18 months. These suits could potentially cost the Merck company tens of BILLIONS of dollars.