I’ve been writing about the massive threat of the impending lawsuits against Merck due to its apparent reluctance to pull its blockbuster Vioxx medicine off the shelves once there were indications that it had harmful side effects. It’s a huge liability problem and I believe will change the very face of Big Pharma, with some significant consequences for health care in the long term. You can read about some of my earlier musings on this subject in Merck’s Vioxx Liability: The Death of Big Pharma?
I also thought that, of all things, the John Grishman pulp novel The King of Torts offered some interesting insight into the cut-throat world of tort and class action lawsuits, albeit in a fictional world.
Put these two together and it’s no surprise at all that the specter of a huge legal case and massive class action tort suit against one of the largest companies in the United States is pulling the lawyers out of the woodwork. Indeed, search on Google for Vioxx or Merck and you’ll find that all the advertisements are about the upcoming lawsuits, hoping to entice Vioxx users to sign on with one class action team or another.
Indeed, I have the Google AdSense program on this Web site, and look to your left to see what ads show up here targeting “Vioxx, Merck, Lawsuit”…
In this environment of sharks circling, it should be no surprise that I received an unsolicited email message, spam, from a law firm, inviting me to become part of their class action group. What’s surprising, perhaps, is that it took this long for me to notice spam about this particular issue.
The real question is: would anyone who could be part of this suit actually be swayed by a spam message that pops up in their mailbox with the subject Do You Have A Case Against Merck?
Sadly, I know the answer, and it’s probably “yes”. Tort lawsuits are all a numbers game, so all these legal teams care about is getting lots of people so they can have leverage in private negotiations with Merck for out-of-court settlements.
Oh, and just for your edification, here’s the message:
It seems to me that the Bar should be unhappy with this sort of tactic, but somehow looking at a message sent by “ETrack” of Boca Raton, Florida, on behalf of an entity called “vioxx-legalhelpcenter.org”, I expect that unwinding this back to a specific law firm, with all the so-called plausible deniability inherent in this sort of chain, means that there’s really nothing that can be done in this situation.
Other than to say “Yech. Look how low the legal profession has fallen. Again.”
As an attorney I could not resist commenting on this post.
One of the uglier aspects to this type of spam is that it is frequently NOT initiated by lawyers at all. Instead, case “brokers” will cull through the noise of potential claimants – usually with only minimal telephonic interviews – and then barrage lawyers with telephone solicitations. Usually, the cold calls those lawyers receive start out with “I’m looking for a lawyer in [state] to handle Vioxx cases. Are you handling these type of cases or are you interested in these case?” Further discussion almost always involves the attorney paying a referral fee to the broker.
Since it is unethical to split fees with non-lawyers, some case brokers claim they are attorneys (or work with attorneys). Still, under most state’s professional licensing programs the referring attorney must actually do some work (over and above simply referring the case) in order to receive a partial fee.
A lawyer would have to be insane to accept clients based on such referrals. What kind of client would answer such a low-rung overture? What kind of lawyer would react favorably to such a pitch by a case broker?
Clients are likewise exposed to unnecessary dangers. Clients may unwittingly expose their private confidential personal and medical history to a total stranger. At least a lawyer has a professional and ethical duty to preserve their client confidences.
How, then, do potential clients find a competent lawyer? The simplest and most effective method is to call the local bar association and ask for a referral. Typically, the bar association will give them the names of two or three lawyers in the area of practice (i.e., products liability, etc.) Those lawyers frequently pay a small fee for such referrals. An even better approach is to call three lawyers in an unrelated area of practice and ask who they would consider a top lawyer in the area of practice in which the potential client is interested. Probate lawyers, among others, for example, will often know the best products liability lawyer in town.