Monday, August 22, 2005

How he won $153M

For all you law junkies out there, here's the profile that the WSJ put together on Mark Lanier, the plaintiff attorney from Houston who successfully argued his client's case for a reward of $153M (!!!) against Merck for the wrongful death suit involving its drug, Vioxx. His stratagem were soooo creative, I hope I get to do something like that one day (and make some cash like that, too!).

The Lawyer Who Beat Merck

August 19, 2005 7:25 p.m.

ANGLETON, Texas -- The attorney who handed Merck & Co. a loss in the first Vioxx wrongful-death case was 44-year-old Mark Lanier, a flamboyant, larger-than-life Texas plaintiff's attorney.

On Friday, a jury ruled that Merck's painkiller Vioxx, since withdrawn from the market, had killed Robert Ernst, a 59-year-old marathoner, in 2001. In winning the case, Mr. Lanier, of The Lanier Law Firm, in Houston, had to overcome a serious hurdle: Vioxx has been tied to heart attacks and strokes, but not to arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms, the stated cause of death for Mr. Ernst.

The arsenal Mr. Lanier wielded included "shadow jurors," demographically matched to the actual jury, who, without knowing he had hired them, reported back through a third party their impressions and leanings in the trial. He also hired a jury consultant who, a couple of days before closing remarks, helped Mr. Lanier hone his pitch to individual jurors, invoking their favorite celebrities (he mentioned Oprah) and reminding them of his role preaching Sundays at a Baptist church.

In court, Mr. Lanier spoke loudly, gestured forcefully and roamed the courtroom as if it were a stage. He displayed PowerPoint slides in his opening statement portraying Merck as an ATM machine giving cash to executives.

To argue that Merck bamboozled the Food and Drug Administration by flooding it with data obscuring Vioxx's problems, he had workers start to wheel 157 boxes of paper into the courtroom for the trial, District Court of Brazoria County, Texas, which is south of Houston. The parade of boxes finally stopped when a defense attorney objected that the stack obstructed her view of the jury.

He set two trophies Mr. Ernst won for participating in marathons on the witness stand as Mrs. Ernst recounted the day he died. A huge portrait of the couple on their wedding day faced the jury on a large screen.

Mr. Lanier has previously won big decisions against corporate adversaries, including a $115 million damage award -- later settled for an undisclosed amount -- in 1998 against an asbestos maker on behalf of 21 steelworkers. That victory came in the same courthouse here and before the same judge who presided over the Vioxx case.

In all, Mr. Lanier says he has won 45 of the 50 cases he has tried in Texas. This trial makes it 46.

In the Vioxx trial, jurors connected to Mr. Lanier. At one point, he compared atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, to a tarp holding a load of garbage onto a pickup truck. Derrick Chizer, a 43-year-old service representative for Social Security on the jury, complained that Merck lawyers and witnesses tossed around medical terms without explaining them, but he said, "Mr. Lanier broke all the medical words down, he explained each one of those words."

Pretty cool, huh?


Blogger Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

So he pretty much managed to convince the jury that Vioxx killed his client withouty ever actually proving that Vioxx killed his client. Quite a feat, though I think this says more about the sad state of jury pools.

11:45 PM  

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