NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 3, 2006

President Bush should seize upon the monstrous Vioxx litigation to champion a cause that he believes in: the cause of tort reform, says Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby. Merck, which withdrew the COX-2 inhibitor Vioxx from the market in September 2004 over safety concerns, faces about 11,500 lawsuits related to the medication in state and federal courts.

Sticking up for a painkiller that boosts the risk of heart attack is an unconventional approach to winning votes, says Mallaby, but the Vioxx litigation ... is so crazy and repulsive that it makes even drug companies look virtuous. According to Mallaby, the Vioxx lawsuits "glorify prejudice" against Merck over science because the plaintiffs who have won cases have not adequately proven that the medication caused their injuries.

Moreover, he says, the Vioxx litigation does not merely celebrate dumb prejudice. It's extraordinarily expensive:

  • For this year alone, Merck has set aside a legal war chest of $685 million.
  • The Vioxx lawsuits could eventually cost it between $10 billion and $50 billion.

Mallaby suggests creating a pool of scientific jurors -- retired doctors and such -- to hear medical cases. It could then penalize lawyers who bring expensive cases that get overturned by higher courts. Whatever the solution, there's undeniably a problem.

Source: Sebastian Mallaby, "No Defense For This Insanity," Washington Post, May 1, 2006.

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