Two Springfield, Illinois, doctors and their wives have sued a Merck sales rep for allegedly sending anonymous letters that claimed the couples are heavy drinkers and freeloaders,The Springfield Journal-Register reports.
“These two doctors and their wives feel this conduct can’t be tolerated,” their lawyer, Charles Watson, tells the paper after filing the defamation lawsuit against Beth Kallal, the sales rep. "It’s the type of intimidation that cannot be allowed.” The lawsuit, filed in Sangamon County Circuit Court by internist Carl Lawyer, family-medicine specialist Paul Smelter and their wives, seeks more than $50,000 in damages from Merck and Kallal, a Springfield resident. Kallal, who previously denied any connection with the letters, couldn’t be reached for comment this week, the paper writes. And a Merck spokeswoman declined comment because the drugmaker hadn't yet seen the lawsuit.
The lawsuit focuses on letters the couples say were sent after a dinner Merck hosted at Indigo restaurant on Jan. 10, 2007. The dinner, which Kallal attended, was designed to educate the doctors about Merck’s new anti-shingles vaccine, Zostavax, according to court documents filed by the couples.
Lawyer, who practices with Smelter at Physicians Group Associates, said in an affidavit that during the 2007 event, he asked a medical expert provided by Merck to answer a question about potential cardiovascular side effects associated with Zostavax. The paper writes that the expert wasn’t able to answer the question, according to Lawyer’s statement. The doctors’ suit says Lawyer’s question “could be considered embarrassing to Merck.”
In late January 2007, the suit alleges, Kallal mailed “defamatory” letters from Springfield to Lawyer, Smelter and Springfield neurologist Josh Warach, among others. Watson wouldn’t say how his clients determined that Kallal was the author of the letters, which were typewritten but contained some cursive handwriting. When asked by the paper if a handwriting expert might have implicated Kallal, Watson says, “That’s certainly one way of looking at it.”
According to the lawsuit, the letters said that “in relation to pharmaceutical company-sponsored events,” Smelter and Lawyer “order large amounts of alcohol” and “order multiple entrees and desserts so to have meals to take home.” As a result of the doctors’ conduct at the events, “Mrs. Lawyer looks like a ‘bag lady’ at the end of the evening,” according to the letters described in the lawsuit, the paper writes. The suit adds that the letters said Lawyer asked “some type of stupid question of the speaker.”
According to the letters, waiters at a location often used for the drug-company events refer to the Lawyers and Smelters as the “obnoxious ones.”
Watson tells the paper that he doesn’t know whether Merck ordered Kallal to send the letters. He said Merck may make “the best medicine. But you don’t get to do this kind of thing.” He says the doctors and their wives “want to see their names vindicated. If the facts are as we believe they were, something really bad happened here.”
Watson previously filed court documents that asked Forest Laboratories sales rep Timothy Lyons to provide information about the letters. Watson said Tuesday he doesn’t have any evidence to connect Lyons to the letters.