There was a time when you couldn't turn on daytime TV without being bombarded with dire, low-budget ads advising anyone who'd stepped near a pharmacy between 1999 and 2004 to talk to contact an attorney immediately about Vioxx. The anti-inflammatory drug was linked to tens of thousands of cases of heart disease and death before being recalled by Merck.
It was a debacle for Merck and a nightmare for anyone who took the drug, but it was a boon for trial lawyers across the country who blanketed the airwaves with solicitations for clients. Dallas' Tom Corea was one of the attorneys who fished for Vioxx users to take on as clients.
One of the individuals who took him up on the offer was Harlan Cannon, an East Texan who was injured in 2001 after taking the drug. Corea sued Merck on Cannon's behalf, and the company agreed to a $200,000 settlement. But Cannon never saw a dime.
"Mr. Cannon called, he wrote, he has records of letters being delivered to the Corea Firm seeking a response, and he just never got a response," said Cannon's attorney, Bill Dippel.
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What typically happens in large settlement cases is that an attorney receives a check from the company in question and promptly passes the settlement money onto his or her clients, minus legal and other fees. Cannon had been waiting for months when, on August 10, he filed a grievance with the Texas State Bar on August 10 alleging professional misconduct. Now, almost two months later, he's followed up with a lawsuit.
The complaint, filed on Wednesday in Dallas County, accuses Corea of fraud, theft, and breach of contract and demands Cannon's settlement money, legal fees, and damages. If this all sounds very familiar, it's because Corea was indicted in August on charges that he screwed clients out of a lot of money.
Cannon was not among the victims listed in the indictment, nor was there mention of the Vioxx settlement. Dibbel said his client is cooperating with the district attorneys office, and he expects additional charges to be filed against Corea. (I've run this by DA spokeswoman Debbie Denmon and am awaiting a response).
Dippel says he's spoken with several others who were successfully represented by Corea on Vioxx claims but never saw a dime. He expects the allegations contained in the indictments and Cannon's lawsuit are "just the tip of the iceberg."