Today's Wall Street Journal has a good—if only partial—overview of the problems facing Merck as it tries to defend itself from the feeding frenzy of Vioxx litigation. The Garza case, which began yesterday, demonstrates the logistical challenge: the trial—with its one-week-on, three-weeks-off calendar in a jurisdiction where a third of the jury pool knew the plaintiff's family—was scheduled only three weeks ago, which required a new trial counsel because of a scheduling conflict with the old one. As many as a dozen cases could be tried simultaneously in 2006, and each trial team must be familiar with seven million documents and tens of thousands of pages of videotaped deposition testimony. Meanwhile, the company is distracted from its mission and numerous executives' careers are ruined by the need to spend months sitting in courtrooms, with the concomitant problem that witnesses get "stale" after repeated use, and a single in-trial or in-deposition mistake by a witness will get used against that witness in all future trials. (Heather Won Tesorio, Jan. 26; AP, Jan. 24). But, as not mentioned in the Wall Street Journal article, Merck has little choice but to defend itself if it is to avoid the problems of Wyeth, which paid billions in phony fen-phen settlements in the mistaken belief that settling cases would end its litigation troubles.
Elsewhere in the Vioxx case, Merck deposed New England Journal of Medicine editors today, who have been placed on the plaintiffs' trial-witness list in the Plunkett retrial. Derek Lowe comments; our earlier coverage: Dec. 8, Dec. 10, Dec. 16, and Jan. 8.