Merck & Co. Continues To Be Pay Defense Lawyers, Not Plaintiffs, Taking Each Case To Trial
(Posted by Tom Lamb at DrugInjuryWatch.com)
Merck & Co., Inc.'s President and CEO Richard Clark reported to financial analysts during a January 30, 2007 Earnings Conference Call that the drug company has increased its legal reserves for the ongoing Vioxx litigation and new Fosamax lawsuits.
In short, from a January 30, 2007 Associated Press article about Merck & Co. published by the Asbury Park Press, here is the latest news about the Vioxx and Fosamax products liability legal cases from Merck & Co.'s 2006 Fourth Quarter Earnings Conference Call:
On the litigation front, Merck reported that as of Dec. 31 it faced approximately 27,400 lawsuits, some involving multiple plaintiffs, alleging harm from Vioxx....
Merck also said it faces about 265 potential Vioxx class-action lawsuits alleging personal injury or economic loss, and has entered about 14,180 agreements with other potential claimants suspending the time limit for them to sue.
The company said it added $75 million to its Vioxx legal defense fund in the quarter, after adding $598 million in the third quarter and $295 million in 2005.
It set aside another $48 million to start a legal defense reserve for lawsuits alleging that Fosamax destroys bone in the jaw; the company faces more than 100 such lawsuits.
The transcript of Merck & Co.'s 2006 Fourth Quarter Earnings Conference Call featuring Richard Clark provides more detail about Merck's additional payments to defense lawyers representing the company in the massive Vioxx litigation and the growing number of Fosamax lawsuits. From Mr. Clark we learned the following:
After reviewing the actual cost incurred, and estimates of future cost, it was appropriate to charge -- to record a charge of $75 million to increase the reserve solely for legal defense cost related to the Vioxx litigation to $858 million as of December 31st. This reserve is based on certain assumptions and it represents the Company's best estimate of the legal cost that will be incurred through 2008. Incremental to that, as of December 31st, the Company established reserves of approximately $48 million solely for its future legal defense cost for the Fosamax litigation. The reserve is our best estimate of cost through 2008.... We are actively defending the Company in this litigation and we will continue to provide updates on the litigation as appropriate.
During this same 2006 Fourth Quarter Earnings Conference Call, Judy Lewent, Merck & Co., Inc.'s CFO and Executive Vice President, revealed more about how their Vioxx legal defense money has been spent and would be spent going forward:
During 2006, the Company spent $500 million in the aggregate, including $175 million in the fourth quarter, in legal defense costs worldwide related to Vioxx litigation. This spend [sic] is reflected in the current legal defense reserve balance. As [Richard Clark] mentioned, the Company determined that it was appropriate to record a charge of $75 million to increase the reserve solely for its future legal defense costs related to the Vioxx litigation to $858 million at December 31, 2006. Some of the significant factors considered in the establishment and ongoing review of the reserve for the Vioxx legal defense costs were as follows -- the actual cost incurred by the Company up to that time, the development of the Company's legal defense strategy and structure in light of the scope of the Vioxx litigation, the number of cases being brought against the Company, the cost and outcomes of completed trials, and the most current information regarding anticipated timing, progression and related costs of pretrial activities and trials in the Vioxx product liability lawsuits. Events such as scheduled trials that are expected to occur throughout 2007 and into 2008, and the inherent inability to predict the ultimate outcomes of such trials, limit the Company's ability to reasonably estimate its legal costs beyond the end of 2008. The Company will continue to monitor its legal defense costs and review the adequacy of the associated reserves. The Company has not established any reserves for any potential liability relating to the Vioxx lawsuits and the Vioxx investigations. We continue to believe that every case contains a unique set of facts and the appropriate strategy is to defend these matters on a case-by-case basis.
As we were reminded in the January 30 AP article above, Merck took a $598 million charge in the third quarter of 2006 for its Vioxx defense costs, at which time the drug company said that those additional legal reserves (total to date, then: $858 million) should be sufficient to pays its Vioxx lawyers through the end of 2008. Only three months later, however, in January 2007 -- and after paying $175 million just the past three months to the numerous law firms around the country defending Merck in the Vioxx cases -- Mr. Clark says the drug company thinks that in order to take Merck to the end of 2008 as regards the ongoing Vioxx litigation it (only) has to add another $75 million, now. Like many others, no doubt, I am anxious to hear what Mr. Clark says about the drug company's Vioxx lawsuits costs on Merck's 2007 First Quarter Earnings Conference Call.