A little primary care practice in Chatom, county seat of piney woods Washington County, is at the center of what could be a massive class action suit against pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Inc.
An ongoing suit filed in U.S. District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania in 2012, claims, on behalf of plaintiff Chatom Primary Care, that Merck has violated anti-trust laws by faking medical test results to gain a monopoly patent on the mumps vaccine that doctors have been exclusively jabbing U.S. citizens with since 1971.
Attorneys for the plaintiff are asking the court to grant class status, which could theoretically include millions of Americans vaccinated for mumps. Damages would be based on high prices commanded by suppressing competition.
The complaint is based on the statements by two Merck virologists, Stephen Krahling and Joan Wlochowski, who claim they “witnessed firsthand the improper testing and data falsification in which Merck engaged to artificially inflate the vaccine’s efficacy findings.” Merck repeatedly faked results to show a 95 percent efficacy to get and keep its monopoly, say the former Merck researchers.
The whistleblowers are also the key claimants in another ongoing federal suit, U.S. vs. Merck & Co., filed in 2012 under the False Claims Act. The judge hearing both cases, Darnell Jones, has ruled against motions to dismiss in each case.
A slew of Pennsylvania and New York lawyers are lead attorneys for the plaintiff Chatom Primary Care.
So why is this backwoods Alabama doctors’ office branded as the plaintiff in this case of nationwide scope?
“They looked for someone who has been injured who is just good people. If there is a class representative that would be the typical, small-town practice that is well respected in the community, that is Dr. Steve Donald, the doctor at Chatom Primary Care, ” says Mobile attorney Ed Massey, born and raised in Chatom, population 1, 244.
Massey and Fairhope attorney Stephen Dampier are two Alabama attorneys working in association with the legion of lawyers from big Northeastern firms representing plaintiff Chatom Primary Care.
Dampier, a sole practitioner, says he had previous dealings with the lead, Philadelphia firm and nominated as an ideal plaintiff the doctor’s practice familiar to his attorney friend across the bay, Massey.
“Dr. Donald is typical of the doctor in Middle America, in touch with people in the community every day, ” says Massey. “He’s helped deliver their babies and treated them when they got the sniffles. Dr. Donald has a keen feeling of responsibility to his community.”
text by Chris McFadyen