Today, Merck & Co. announced that a Texas appeals court has ruled in their favor, overturning what had been a $32 million lawsuit. The suit had been brought by the widow of a 71-year-old man who died of a heart attack after taking Merck’s since recalled drug, VIOXX.
As Merck represents it, today’s appeal is a sign of success. They site 12 juries that have ruled in favor of the company, and five juries that have ruled in favor of the plaintiff. But in reality, these twelve so-called victories are vastly overshadowed by the thousands of families involved in class action VIOXX lawsuits, which Merck is expected to settle for $4.85 billion.
This specific appeal was brought because the patient in question, Mr. Leonel Garza Sr., had a long history of heart problems. He began taking VIOXX about a month before he died. Company lawyers argued that because Mr. Garza’s pre-existing condition could easily have caused his death, blaming VIOXX was unsubstantiated.
It’s no surprise that Merck trumpets this as one of many victories. But with $4.85 billion waiting to go out to grieving families, and thousands of lives lost, there is hardly much to celebrate. The appeal is unfortunate for Mr. Garza’s widow, who will never really know the cause of her husband’s death. But an occasional ‘win’ does nothing to change the devastating affects that Merck’s “superdrug” has had on so many families nationwide.
Of course, it is in Merck’s best interest to make a mountain of this molehill appeal. After the appeal was announced, their stock value saw a boost. But long term, investors and consumers will have to ask themselves if holding stock in a company that markets drugs like VIOXX is really worth it. Let’s just wait and see what Merck has to say for themselves when that $4.85 billion class action settlement goes through.