Brits' Vioxx suits tossed


PHILADELPHIA -- A New Jersey judge has dismissed 50 Vioxx-related lawsuits against Merck & Co. filed in state court by British citizens, saying the cases should be heard in Britain.

New Jersey Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee also ordered that Readington-based Merck must take steps to ensure that the plaintiffs can have their cases heard in British courts. If British courts decline to accept them, the drugmaker must not prevent the suits from being refiled in New Jersey, the judge ordered.

Higbee's order, which was posted on the court's Web site Thursday, came in response to Merck's motion to dismiss the lawsuits filed by British citizens, arguing Britain was the appropriate forum for their complaints.

Merck likely faces at least 22,000 U.S. lawsuits generally claiming the use of the painkiller Vioxx caused heart attacks or other cardiovascular events, and that Merck failed to properly warn of the drug's risks. Merck, which has denied those charges in trials, withdrew Vioxx from the market in September 2004 after a study showed it elevated the risk of cardiovascular events in people taking it for at least 18 months.