David Egilman, a professor of family medicine at Brown University, was once a federal witness in a lawsuit filed against Merck ($MRK) over the now-long-withdrawn Vioxx. Merck finally closed the books on all the Vioxx suits last summer, but the company is now asking a federal judge to sanction Egilman for leaking info to the Wall Street Journal.
Egilman was a paid expert witness for the plaintiffs in a Vioxx suit filed by the Kentucky Attorney General and settled for $23 million. In a motion filed recently in a U.S. District Court in Louisiana, Merck argues that Egilman improperly disclosed information from documents that the court designated as confidential in 2005.
But in March of this year, a Kentucky judge ruled that Egilman could challenge the confidentiality of the documents. The doctor believed the documents should be made public because they demonstrated Merck did not properly inform Vioxx research subjects about the risk of side effects, he told the WSJ. Still, the Louisiana judge, Eldon Fallon, is siding with Merck for now, issuing a restraining order against Egilman earlier this month.
It's all part of what seems like an endless legal saga over Vioxx. In 2007, the company laid out $4.85 billion to settle an initial round of lawsuits. Then in November of 2011, the company agreed to pay $950 million in fines to settle allegations of improper Vioxx marketing. In 2012, it settled a consumer class action suit over the drug for $220 million.
Merck declined to comment to the WSJ on the tussle with Egilman. According to court documents, the company is asking for legal fees and the return of any documents Egilman may have. An attorney for Egilman also declined to comment but said in court filings that Merck failed to prove the documents were legally protected, and furthermore that the doctor was merely repeating information that was already known, according to the WSJ.
Fallon is expected to make a final decision on whether to impose sanctions on Egilman during a June 20 hearing.
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