Merck, the US pharmaceutical giant, is to continue battling with hundreds of British claimants over its failed arthritis painkiller, Vioxx, in spite of agreeing yesterday to a settlement with US residents.
Merck agreed a $4.85bn (£2.42 bn) settlement, one of the biggest in history, with US claimants who blamed the drug for heart attacks and other side-effects.
But the company said this would not apply to British lawsuits or others round the world suing for compensation.
Hmm….now why would that be? I think that at least part of it is the difference in the way that legal fees are paid. Here, if you sue someone and lose, then you have to pay their legal bills. Over there, the colonial cousins have a rule that each side (except in exceptional circumstances) pays its own legal bills.
So, Merck lost the first big case and has then won a series of others (not all of them, but a majority). But even though they\’ve won them, even though they\’ve not had to pay damages, I\’ve seen it said that their legal bills were running at $600 million a year. Making a $4.85 billion settlement thus makes some sort of sense for them. It\’s not an admission of guilt so much as a simple trade off. A decade\’s worth of legal bills? Or pay them to go away?
The reason why people here aren\’t being treated equally is that if you sue Merck and lose, you owe them money. So the same pressure to settle isn\’t there.
Now, which system you prefer would tend to depend upon your views about consumers, companies and the lawyers in between them. Should we adopt the US system, meaning that it will be easier for those wronged to sue? Or should the US adopt loser pays? Meaning that fewer will have an opportunity to shake down the innocent, but deep pocketed, corporations?
Your call really, depends on the prejudices you bring to the start of the argument I guess.