$100 a Client: What Lawyers Who Sue Drug Companies Pay for New Plaintiffs

Last Updated Nov 18, 2010 8:48 AM EST

Awards and settlements in personal injury cases against pharmaceutical companies can be so large -- Roche (ROG.VX) lost $45 million on a handful of cases about its Accutane acne treatment, for instance -- that a cottage industry of companies who find new clients for lawyers who want to sue drug companies has sprung up.

It's not news that lawyers actively seek drug clients -- if you've ever seen daytime television you've seen ads for personal injury attorneys. What will surprise drug company managers is how blatantly a small army of "legal services" firms is trawling for patients and selling them for cash to lawyers looking for jackpot verdicts.

One such company, PearlShucker.com, recently sent out a mass email with the subject line, "What? You Want More Avandia HA Cases? No Problem." Avandia is a GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) diabetes drug that the FDA recently restricted over suspicions it caused heart attacks. The email continues (all-caps in the original):

THESE LEADS ARE PAYING OUT!

$100.00 PER LEAD

ROOM FOR 3 MORE LAWYERS FOR THIS OFFER IMMEDIATELY

... WE ARE THE KINGS OF AVANDIA HA/STROKE CASE LEADS!
(YOUR LEAD GENERATION VENDOR IS PROBABLY BUYING THEM FROM US TO RE-SELL TO YOU)

These patients don't actually call anyone looking for representation after they realize they've been injured. Rather, PearlShucker is actively searching for patients in a massive database of consumers who have responded to various surveys. The company sifts the data by disease, drug and condition and then sends them junk mail.

For the $4.9 billion Vioxx case against Merck (MRK), Pearl Shuckers' sister company, Service To Lawyers, located a database of arthritis sufferers. That data was sliced by those who reported having Vioxx in their bathroom cabinet and who had suffered cardiac symptoms. It generated 44,000 potential plaintiffs, Pearl Shuckers founder Jesse Levine wrote in a white paper:

If you or your firm is trying to locate potential claimants for upcoming litigation, I urge you to give me a call. We'll discuss the types of people that you want to locate, based on personal habits, health history, hobbies, product ownership, employment â€" or just about any other criteria that you could imagine. I'll come up with an exclusive list of potential claimants, and will even do the mailing for you.
Levine's outfit is currently selling plaintiffs with potential cases against GSK (Avandia), Bayer (the contraceptive Yaz), Johnson & Johnson (Children's Tylenol) and Matrixx Initiatives (Zicam).
It sounds cheesy, and it is, but this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Even respectable legal companies such as LexisNexis offer such services, albeit in toned-down language.

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Image by Wikimedia Commons, CC.