The author of a new book about a 2007 Vioxx trial in New Jersey had a unique perspective, since she was embedded on Houston lawyer Mark Lanier’s legal team. “I gave her complete backstage access to what we do and how we do it,” says Lanier, the well-known plaintiffs lawyer with the Lanier Law Firm. Author Snigdha Prakash of Washington, D.C., a former National Public Radio reporter, says she quit her reporting job to write a book about Vioxx, and ended up focusing on the trial because “I realized that trial itself had been so absorbing that it had become the book.” Lanier says the book is accurate to his knowledge, although not totally flattering to him. “There’s some stuff in there that I wish wasn’t in there, but it’s accurate. I read some of it and I thought I need to grow up,” Lanier says about “All the Justice Money Can Buy: Corporate Greed on Trial.” In 2005, Lanier won a $253.5 million verdict against Merck & Co. Inc. in the nation’s first Vioxx trial, which was in 23rd District Judge Ben Hardin’s court in Angleton. In the book, Prakash writes about a Vioxx trial in 2007 in New Jersey Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee’s court. Lanier represented the family of Brian Hermans, a Wisconsin man who died of a heart attack in 2002. In March 2007, the jury returned a verdict finding Merck did not fail to warn that the painkiller Vioxx had cardiovascular risks prior to Hermans’ heart attack, so Hermans’ family was unable to seek compensatory or punitive damages. According to the book, while he lost at trial, Lanier secured a seven-figure settlement for the Hermans family. When asked if there’s a good guy or a bad guy in the book, Prakash says, “It’s fair to say Merck doesn’t come off looking too good, but it’s fair to say the whole system, from how drugs are developed to how these kinds of wrongs are righted, leaves something to be desired.” Merck voluntarily withdrew Vioxx from the market in September 2004 after a study indicated an increased risk of strokes and heart attacks among people who took the drug continuously for longer than 18 months. In a statement provided by Kent Jarrell, an executive vice president at APCO Worldwide in Washington, D.C., who is global manager for Merck’s communication on Vioxx, Merck writes: “The book simply re-tells the same story that plaintiffs' witnesses told over and over again in the courtroom through the lens of one lawyer. When that testimony was presented to a jury and subject to cross examination, Merck won the vast majority of the time. The accusations made against Merck were not true and Merck had the right to defend itself in the courtroom, which it did in an appropriate and responsible manner.” Lanier says the book is a good primer on how to conduct a trial, and it would be a good textbook for law schools. “The most useful part is what goes into the preparation for these cross-examinations, what does the team do? . . . How do you keep everybody corralled? That kind of stuff is really good,” he says.
-- Brenda Sapino Jeffreys