Don't Let Me Stop You

What the heck, you'll do what you want anyway.

Legal Extortion

Posted by Dan Draney on August 20, 2005

A Texas jury in a 10-2 vote has awarded a woman over a quarter of a billion dollars in the death of her 59-yr-old husband. We don’t know if this sets a new record for outlandish liability verdicts, but, if not, it must be close. Herald.com | 08/20/2005 | Merck liable in Vioxx death lawsuit:

“The jury broke down the award as $450,000 in economic damages — Robert Ernst’s lost pay as a Wal-Mart produce manager — $24 million for mental anguish and loss of companionship and $229 million in punitive damages.

But the punitive damage amount is likely to be reduced as state law caps punitive damages at twice the amount of economic damages — lost pay — and up to $750,000 on top of noneconomic damages — mental anguish and loss of companionship.

That would give Ernst a maximum of $1.65 million in possible punitive damages, meaning her total damage award could not exceed $26.1 million.

”This case did not call for punitive damages,” Skidmore said in a prepared statement. “Merck acted responsibly, from researching Vioxx prior to approval in clinical trials involving almost 10,000 patients to monitoring the medicine while it was on the market to voluntarily withdrawing the medicine when it did.”

After the verdict Friday, Merck shares dropped $2.35, or 7.7 percent, to close at $28.06. Merck lost almost $5.2 billion in stock market value.”

Today if anyone suffers harm then we must find a scapegoat with deep pockets to be punished. A “victim” cashes in, the trial lawyers make a big score, more sharks smell the blood in the water, and a fine, reputable, innovative company is pushed toward financial ruin. Even the “mere” $24 million for “pain and anguish” is absurdly large. To make matters worse, it’s not even clear that his fatal heart arrythmia was caused by Vioxx.

If the Merck board of directors had gone to Ernst’s house and shot him to death with a gun, the liability would be much lower. Instead the company spent years of effort and hundreds of millions of dollars to invent, develop, test, and gain approval for a drug that helped hundreds of thousands of patients. Obviously, they should be punished for that.

The average cost of developing a new drug and taking it through the FDA approval process is about $800 million. So if one person taking it dies, the cost should go up another $250 million? Do we want any new drug treatments for illness? Do we think medications are too cheap now? If you were a brilliant young student, should you choose medicine/science as a career, or should you go to law school to get your own mansion on Easy Street paid for by productive people?

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