Carlene Rhodes Lewis received the Steven Sharp Award in recognition of her contribution towards a safer, more just America and her tireless advocacy on behalf of her clients, Louise Bell and Carol Ernst, who were also recognized for their cases against Merck. Beginning in 2000, Carlene Rhodes Lewis worked to expose to the public the dangers of Vioxx. These dangers were known to the corporate executives of Merck, the manufacturer, even before it began selling the drug, but were hidden from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, doctors, and patients.
Recognizing the huge potential risks to the health and safety of perhaps millions of people who would be lured by Merck’s false and deceptive advertising for Vioxx, one the company’s most profitable drugs, she recruited other trial lawyers to the cause, helped create ATLA’s Cox-2 Inhibitor Litigation Group, and began pursuing both individual and class action cases involving several hundred individuals injured by Vioxx. By 2004, FDA scientist Dr. David Graham estimated Vioxx had contributed to the deaths of as many as 55,000 Americans. By the time she and her co-counsel Mark Lanier tried and won the first Vioxx case in 2005—that of Carol Ernst on behalf of her deceased husband Robert—the American people had learned from national news media reports that Merck corporate executives had made a conscious decision to deceive doctors and put profits ahead of the safety and health of patients.