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Commentary

Suggested side-effects - The Vioxx verdict should serve to stimulate tort reform.
Financial Times, 8-23-05

The Financial Times sees the Vioxx verdict as a clarion call for further tort reform:

For Merck, the verdict opens the floodgates. Although a Texas law capping punitive damages will reduce the award, the drug maker still faces at least 4,200 further lawsuits. It potentially faces billions of dollars in liability from claims that it did not disclose the heart risks posed by Vioxx. Yet it is not the immediate costs to the company which are most damaging, but the crippling legal and financial uncertainty which is built into the system. …
This prolonged uncertainty imposes huge costs on consumers and businesses, as well as shareholders. With the contours of liability uncertain, companies will tend to avoid risk, and with it investment. In the pharmaceutical industry's case, this may mean pulling back from research on drugs that are sold broadly to general practitioners and focusing on specialty areas like cancer drugs instead, where the public's tolerance for risk is higher.
The Vioxx verdict therefore underlines the need for more ambitious tort reform. On the specific issue of medical risk, it is appropriate that companies manipulating clinical trials, or withholding information about side-effects, should face sanction… But when a company has faithfully adhered to the regulatory processes, it should enjoy a greater degree of protection from liability than it does today.

No one is arguing that companies should escape punishment for malfeasance. But denying a safe-harbor for responsible companies means that every company is open to the attacks of unscrupulous trial attorneys in hand-picked jurisdictions. Without meaningful liability reform, investors may eventually decide that they should put their money into safer investments.



Project FDA.
  
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