Merck & Co. Ordered to Pay Attorneys’ Fees, Costs Following VIOXX® Consumer Fraud Finding
Attorneys say Merck abusing justice system by denying fraud claims
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – New Jersey Superior Court judge Carol E. Higbee has ordered pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. to pay fees and costs to a group of attorneys who proved in court that Merck committed fraud by deceiving doctors about the cardiovascular risks of the popular painkiller VIOXX® and deliberately hiding information about those risks from physicians.
Merck could have settled both consumer fraud claims for less than $5,000, but fought the allegations in an April 2006 trial. Similar consumer fraud claims are pending in thousands of additional cases against Merck.
Following the New Jersey trial, jurors awarded $13.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages to 77-year-old John McDarby, who suffered a heart attack after taking VIOXX® for four years. Jurors also agreed that Merck committed consumer fraud and awarded an additional $4,013.36 to Mr. McDarby and $45 to second victim Thomas Con based on the cost of their prescriptions.
The order signed June 15 awards approximately $4 million in fees and costs for the attorneys who represented Mr. McDarby and Mr. Con.
“It is a pity that Merck is forcing our nation’s court system to waste thousands of hours of time and millions of dollars to hear these fraud claims after a jury has already said the company committed fraud,” says lead attorney Mark Lanier of The Lanier Law Firm. “This is lawsuit abuse by Merck, plain and simple.”
The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act provides for “reasonable attorneys’ fees, filing fees and reasonable costs of suit” to plaintiffs who prove a consumer fraud claim. The New Jersey statute does not limit counsel fees according to the amount of the original claim. According to the court, the law “provides an incentive to competent counsel to undertake high-risk cases and to represent victims of fraud who suffer relatively minor losses.”
The ruling notes that Merck spent $500 million defending VIOXX® cases in 2006, and the company has reserved more than $850 million to defend future cases.
Prior to the ruling, Merck withdrew any objection to the amount of time expended by attorneys for the plaintiffs or the hourly rate charged by plaintiffs’ counsel. The company acknowledged in a court filing that Merck’s overall fees and costs “were at least as high as plaintiffs corresponding fees and costs.”