Transcript - Class Action Contra Il Vioxx (English) - Italian Press Coverage - October 5, 2004
Vioxx Class Action - English
September 12, 2005
Reporter: On May 21st 1999, the Food and Drug Administration approved the marketing of the new drug manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Merck: Vioxx.
This drug represented a new generation of non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat symptoms of bone-arthritis, rheumatic and period pain. On September 30th 2004, Merck & Co., the manufacturer of the drug, took the decision to withdraw the drug from the world market following the increase of cardiovascular disorders. At that time almost 2 million people were making use of the drug and, in total, about 80 million patients worldwide were prescribed Vioxx. According to the Food and Drug Administration, more than 27,000 heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths can be attributed to this drug. The American law firm Kenneth B. Moll, in collaboration with Codacons, has already promoted, at the Federal District Court in Illinois, the first Italian Class Action against Merck on behalf of all those people who had been prescribed the drug Vioxx and who, by taking such drug, have suffered serious damage to their health. Class Action is a legal action that allows citizens to obtain compensation due to punitive damages and without having to anticipate any legal fees.
Kenneth Moll and Marco Ramadori: Four months ago we presented in court the first claim of Class Action of Italian patients. This class action was developed with the association of the Codacons that brought this to our attention. When we announced the class action, we indicated that this was the biggest pharmaceutical crisis in history. This month, the first trial against Merck resulted in a verdict for the plaintiff with a record-breaking verdict for the plaintiff and against Merck of over 250 million dollars. What is important to realize about the verdict is a portion of that, a minor amount, was given to the individual for the injuries that person sustained. But the majority of that verdict was a representation of punitive damages – and let me explain punitive damages in America. The jury in America was asked to look at the conduct of Merck. They were asked if Merck’s conduct was a conscious disregard for the safety of its consumers they must be punished. What came out in that trial is an example of trials for Italians and people around the world – that the conduct of Merck was unconscionable. Their own documents, the testimony of their own employees, showed that Merck knew about the risks of its products and marketed it anyway. The jury was asked to look at their conduct inrelation to the billions of dollars a year that Merck made.
Through the filing of the class action all Italian consumers of Vioxx are protected. There doesn’t exist a class action and that’s why we started this lawsuit against Merck in the U.S. in association with Codacons. A representative can bring one case for every Italian Vioxx user. The class action procedure prevents the necessity of every Italian filing their claims within a limited time period.
The final decision is: is Merck responsible for the damages caused by Vioxx?
We have five Italian representatives who acted in this Class Action. The damages are in relation to a series of elements: the age of the victim and the type of damage. Each person must produce the arguments to support its claim.
Compensation is based upon the severity of injury, the cost of medical care, lost wages and a number of other things.
Carlo Rienzi: They must not sue themselves; they need to make this claim after the ruling that we obtained through those who appealed; it this clear?
The American judge will grant the appeal for the Italians in illinois. The American judge from Texas - as these events started in Texas - is / was territorially competent to determine whether Merck is responsible or not. Texas has done their job. At this point there are 2400 other subjects in the United States who presented a claim in other states; one of these claims was made by 5 Italians and by Codacons representing all others in Illinois, all right? At this point, the judge of Illinois, will determine that, similarly to what happened in Texas, the responsibility also extends to the claimants of Illinois. Obviously, for the 5 Italians, the medical records will be assessed in Illinois during the trial due to the fact that Merck, with its experts, might say 'No, this claimant has made everything up’ or ‘this other claimant has had a heart attack for other reasons'. Experts will then discuss, and one claimant might be excluded. However, once Class Action, supporting the Italian, is established in Illinois, any other Italian, in a period which will run from that of the ruling, is to submit a claim mandatorily through those who have had a ruling in Illinois. This is how it works in Illinois: the law firm holds the right to present these claims. The judge of Illinois will then prepare a list of compensations; for example, if the victim was a 30-year-old football player who took Vioxx for three years and subsequently had two heart attacks, he/she will receive a compensation of one million dollars; if the victim was an 80-year-old retired person who took Vioxx for six months and had a tachycardia, he/she will be entitled to 100,000 dollars. The documentation containing these claims is presented to the judge in Illinois; Merck might want to go check Ramadori in Italy who is demanding such things and could send its experts here in Italy to us. If a case/documentation is questioned, these might result in being insufficient.
Once these cases are not contested, they will be entitles to compensation from Merck without suing the same. Clear? This is why Class Action is of great importance.
Professor/Attorney: This happens because in some ways I think the regulators are very weak when faced with the industry.
Reporter: What is the position of Codacons against Vioxx and drugs at risk?
Rienzi: We invite all Italians who took this drug - Vioxx - to come forward and verify whether they are experiencing damages caused by Vioxx – heart issues in particular – because there is a possibility for them to be compensated through this action called Class Action that we created in the United States for all Italians who took this drug that was later withdrawn from the market and that did so much damage in our country and all around the world.
Giovanni Schibilia: My personal experience is of people who took Vioxx and had a stroke. I used it for four / five days, after which I had a heart attack. However, what the pharmaceutical company states, after releasing on the market a substance that has created so much damage, is that it takes much longer than 5 days to have a heart attack.
Reporter: Were you healthy before you took this drug?
Schibilia: I was fine: I used to go for a run, a swim, I used to cycle and work; I was fine.
Reporter: How old were you when you had the heart attack?
Schibilia: It happened in 2002; I was 65 years old.
Francesca Turchetti: I started taking it in 2001 due to joint pain and I stopped using it three years later in October 2004; I took it on a regular basis, one tablet per day. I stopped in October just after the Ministry advised people not to continue using the drug. In October I was admitted into hospital and was diagnosed with three blocked arteries. I underwent coronary artery bypass surgery, a typical operation performed on males or on subjects in their sixties and above. I was therefore quite a rare case for that hospital department and for that type of operation, and most likely it was due to Vioxx.