Posts Tagged ‘Wyeth’

Kentucky fen-phen lawyers suspended

Melbourne Mills, Shirley Cunningham Jr. and William Gallion were “temporarily suspended” from the practice of law by the Kentucky Supreme Court this week. The three had taken well over half of a $200 million settlement Wyeth had given them on behalf of 440 fen-phen users they had represented. (Brandon Ortiz, “3 Fen-phen case lawyers are suspended”, Lexington Herald-Leader, Aug. 25; Andrew Wolfson, “Fen-phen case fees poured into racehorses”, Louisville Courier-Journal, May 30; Andrew Wolfson, “Judge: Fen-phen lawyers breached duty”, Louisville Courier-Journal, Mar. 10; Beth Musgrave and Jim Warren, “Fen-phen settlement is back in the courtroom”, Lexington Herald-Leader, Jan. 29, 2005 (reprint)). More: May 10, 2005 (civil lawsuit); Mar. 6 (judge who profited from approval of settlement resigns).

Mills was recently in the news because he won a suit against a secretary who claimed (with the help of a recording) that he promised her an “Erin-Brockovich”-style payment for her help in the settlement. (Brandon Ortiz, “Ruling benefits Melbourne Mills Jr.”, Lexington Herald-Leader, Apr. 4). (cross-posted at Point of Law)

Turning over the e-mail

Under current civil procedure rules, parties, upon request, and with very few limits, must turn over all relevant documents to the opposing party. In the twenty-first century, that includes e-mail. Failure to turn over enough e-mail can cost a company a billion dollars in de facto sanctions (Dec. 17); turning over too much e-mail can waive the attorney-client privilege. Thus, unless parties can come to an agreement otherwise, teams of attorneys have to review every single e-mail, at great expense.

But in a typical tort action, with an individual plaintiff and one or more corporate defendants, there are asymmetric discovery burdens. An individual plaintiff has no incentive to agree with a corporate defendant to limit the corporate defendant’s burden, because (1) increasing the expense to the corporate defendant increases the likelihood of a nuisance settlement and (2) there’s no telling what stray e-mail might be able to be taken out of context to make a case to a jury unfamiliar with corporate communications that a defendant is worthy of punitive damages. (Numerous plaintiffs have successfully used decades-old back-of-the-napkin sloppy cost-benefit analyses by individual Ford and GM engineers to obtain millions of dollars of punitive damages for entirely different vehicle designs; an e-mail by Kay Anderson, a low-level Wyeth administrator who expressed frustration that her career was mired in dealing with complaints from what she called “fat people scared of a silly little lung problem” cost the company tens of millions, if not more, in fen-phen litigation when plaintiffs tarred the whole company with it.) This Wired story (via Bashman) about Enron e-mail made public provides a good reminder that any e-mail you send or receive at work is likely to end up in the hands of multiple lawyers one day.

“Get your million dollars from Vioxx lawsuit”

That’s the banner headline of a website promoting litigation over the now-withdrawn arthritis drug. (William F. Hammond, Jr., “Merck Faces Flood of Vioxx Lawsuits After Drug Recall”, New York Sun, Oct. 27)($)(reprinted here, PDF)(I’m cited in article too). Here are some more highlights from the website in question:

…Experts estimate the class action lawsuit will award $5 billion, 50% of which will go to the top 1000 sufferers, or $2.5 million per person. Get your share. It is the easiest way to become a millionaire. (In 1997, the recall of a couple of diet therapies by Wyeth resulted in $16 billion so far paid out in claims) If you have heard of Million Dollar Awards from Tobacco Lawsuits, Vioxx cases are easier to win….

Lacking in symptoms? Don’t despair:

The chance of winning is much greater, if you had any heart attack in your medical record. Small heart attacks are untraceable. Many have this record without ever detected by doctors.

Lacking in any evidence that you ever took the drug? Hope is on the way:

We will show you how to prove you had taken Vioxx, to prove that you had related side effects, and to find a good lawyer to win your case. There are still places selling Vioxx after the recall, you can find them online. Merck is still 100% fully responsible for any side effect. If you purchase Vioxx now, not only you can sue Merck, you can also sue the pharmacy store for selling recalled products. The purchase is risk free, as Merck will pay you every penny you spend on Vioxx including tax and shipping fees.

The website’s sponsorship is not immediately apparent; though it is chock-full of Google ads for law firms, we saw no indication that it was itself posted by a member of the legal profession, though we may have overlooked something. A second page proposes that readers pay $100 to purchase a document if you “want to know something that no Vioxx Class Action Lawsuit Lawyers will ever tell you, want to get a bigger share of the award”. Remember, “Vioxx Lawsuit is the easiest way to make you a millionaire.” More: Nov. 18, Dec. 22.

Update: Philly juries not kind to fen-phen plaintiffs

Contrary to some expectations, Philadelphia juries have not been proving a soft touch for “opt-out” plaintiffs who’ve journeyed there from around the country to sue drugmakers over alleged side effects from the diet-drug compound. One recent jury awarded a mere $4,000 to five women from Utah after a three-week trial, and another returned an outright defense verdict in a case brought by four Philadelphia women. Most of the plaintiffs exhibit heart murmurs and other subtle heart irregularities which they contend were brought on by the use of Pondimin and Redux, but a plaintiff’s lawyer says their case is weakened because most display no symptoms and are not under a doctor’s care for the claimed irregularities. “They don’t have treating doctors who will back up their stories,” agrees a lawyer for Wyeth. “The juries aren’t buying it.” (L. Stuart Ditzen, “Diet-drug lawsuits netting slim payoffs”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 16). For more on fen-phen, see Jan. 25, Jan. 6 and links from there; Apr. 28 ($1 billion verdict in Texas for fatality claimed to be linked to drug).

Fen-phen: O’Quinn extracts $1 billion from Beaumont jury

“A jury awarded $1 billion to the family of a woman who once took the Wyeth-made diet drug Pondimin, part of the now-banned weight-loss combination fen-phen.” Cynthia Cappel-Coffey, who died last year at 41 of primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH), did not develop symptoms of PPH until more than four years after using the Wyeth drug. According to Bill Sims, a lawyer for Wyeth, the Beaumont judge refused to allow the company to introduce evidence that Cappel-Coffey had taken four other diet drugs in the intervening years, although all four of the other drugs warn of a risk of PPH. Wyeth has already set aside nearly $17 billion for fen-phen litigation. (“Jury awards $1 billion to family of woman whose death was connected to diet drug”, AP/Court TV, Apr. 28; Reed Abelson and Jonathan D. Glater, “Texas Jury Rules Against the Maker of Fen-Phen, a Diet Drug”, New York Times, Apr. 28; Tony Freemantle, “Beaumont jury awards $1 billion in diet drug suit”, Houston Chronicle, Apr. 28). (More: Texas Lawyer). For more on fen-phen litigation, see Jan. 25, Jan. 6, Aug. 19 and links from there. For more on Beaumont, that very special jurisdiction, see Jul. 31 and many more. And for more on attorney John O’Quinn, a frequent source of material for this page, see Feb. 26 and many more.

Fen-phen: the defense strikes back

“Plaintiff lawyers have squeezed Wyeth for billions over its faulty weight-loss drugs. Now the company is pushing back with allegations of greed and wrongdoing.” The drug maker, which has paid out $13 billion since Redux and Pondimin were pulled off the market in 1997, thinks it can refute a huge portion of the 153,000 pending claims. “They’re out to humiliate the plaintiff bar and its expert doctors by handing their evidence over to law enforcement officials and medical licensing boards.” Meanwhile, plaintiff’s lawyers are fighting bitterly among themselves over charges of inadequate class representation as well as poor case-screening (Robert Lenzner and Rob Wherry, “Bad Medicine”, Forbes, Sept. 1; Kelly Pedone, “Plaintiffs’ Lawyers Want Fen-Phen Class Counsel Tossed”, Texas Lawyer, Aug. 18)(see Sept. 27-29, 2002; May 30-Jun. 1, 2003).

Kinsley: GOP is right on malpractice

“The current arrangement delivers justice at random, in widely varying amounts or not at all, depending on whether you’re feeling litigious, how good your lawyer is, or what a judge or a juror had for breakfast that day. … It is a society with an odd sense of justice that awards millions of dollars to every 25th victim of what may or may not have been a botched operation, but doesn’t guarantee basic health care to anyone.” (“The lawsuit lottery”, Slate, Jul. 10).

The Senate’s failure to invoke cloture on medical litigation reform proceeded on strict party lines, with no Democrats voting for and only two Republicans voting against, Shelby of Alabama (no surprise there) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). (Helen Dewar, “Medical Malpractice Bill Dies in Senate”, Washington Post, Jul. 10). What’s with Graham? — wonders Wyeth Wire.

MedPundit Sydney Smith as usual offers omnibus coverage of the malpractice debate, including a new column of her own (“The Threat to Medical Innovation”, TechCentralStation, Jul. 11); a new study from researchers at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality finding that states with liability caps “experienced a more rapid increase in their supply of physicians” than states without; a funny Scrappleface satire on how doctors should start prescribing cash as a remedy for pain and suffering since that’s what the government considers suitable (Jul. 8, and read the comments); a critique of a typically benighted treatment of the subject in The American Prospect; and more (scroll down, too).