Merck & Co., Inc. (Merck), headquartered in New Jersey, is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Merck is committed to improving health and well-being around the world and has developed a plethora of prescription medications and vaccines. However, like other pharmaceutical companies in its industry, Merck has also been privy to its fair share of lawsuits. The most recent lawsuit stemmed from the pharmaceutical drug Fosamax, a medication that is used to treat osteoporosis.
Fosamax was initially introduced in 1995 for the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis. Plaintiffs who took the drug allege that it has caused them severe problems with their jaw from long-term use of the medication. They also allege that it caused problems with blood circulation around the jaw and has resulted in osteonecrosis, the deterioration of portions of the jawbone. In recent news, one lawsuit was particularly noteworthy because it had the potential of impacting more than 3,000 other pending lawsuits against Merck. However, days before the Appellate Court was going to release its opinion, it was notified that the parties had already settled the case several months prior.
Apparently, Merck reached a settlement with the plaintiff in January, but the Appellate Court was not notified until April. This was an important case from the onset due to its potential to impact future lawsuits. Additionally, it was a complex lawsuit that had a large amount of paperwork to support the arguments of each side. The trial court had been informed about the settlement, as well as 250 others, but the Appellate Court received no notice.
The Appellate Court expressed its outrage in not being notified of the settlement in a brief opinion. Judge Ellen Koblitz wrote the opinion on behalf of the Appellate Court and stated, because of the enormous amount of time needlessly expended in this matter, we have seriously considered the imposition of sanctions. The Appellate Court reminded lawyers that although it decided not to file an opinion on the merits of the case, counsel must advise this court in far more timely manner of a settlement or serious settlement discussions so that scarce judicial resources are not needlessly wasted. Since the opinion was published it can now be used as valid case law, and is considered to set a precedent. Although the Appellate Court has issued several unpublished decisions warning lawyers of inappropriate conduct, this opinion was the first time in almost ten years that it made it official.
Mercks Response to Appellate Courts Opinion
Lainie Keller, a spokesperson for Merck, stated the companys utmost respect for the Appellate Court and explained that Merck believed it had notified the court of the settlement by a letter dated January 9, 2014 and had requested that the matter be stayed. On the other hand, the law firm representing the plaintiff did not make any official comments.
After contemplating the imposition of sanctions, the Appellate Court hopes that the publication of its decision will deter repetition of similar conduct in the future.
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