US judge rejects national class-action lawsuit over Vioxx

vioxxNEW YORK (AFP) - A US federal judge refused to allow a class-action lawsuit to proceed against Merck for health problems linked to its Vioxx pain medication, in a major victory for the pharmaceutical giant.

Judge Eldon Fallon, asked by an interstate judicial panel to consider how to handle the thousands of lawsuits filed over Vioxx, said the cases did not meet the criteria for a national class action suit, where one court would hear the case for all plaintiffs.

"While the majority of plaintiffs in this case allegedly suffered either a heart attack or stroke as a result of ingesting Vioxx, the extent of each plaintiffs subsequent injuries varies widely," he said in a 25-page decision.

"In addition, the plaintiffs allege as part of their claims for compensatory damages emotional and other intangible injuries."

Plaintiffs had asked the cases to be consolidated in a single trial that would be heard in state court in New Jersey, where Merck is headquartered. But Fallon said this was inconsistent with judicial precedent.

"The court finds that each plaintiffs home jurisdiction has a stronger interest in deterring foreign corporations from personally injuring its citizens and ensuring that its citizens are compensated than New Jersey does in deterring its corporate citizens' wrongdoing," he wrote.

"It is highly unlikely that a plaintiff residing outside of New Jersey could have reasonably expected that his or her personal injury claims would be governed by New Jersey law," the judge said.

The ruling means plaintiffs must pursue their claims on a case-by-case basis. Merck has won five and lost four cases.

Merck yanked Vioxx from the market in September 2004 after a clinical study showed that patients who took the drug for 18 months or longer ran a higher risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

Vioxx, an anti-inflammatory agent, was used primarily to treat arthritis and injuries.

Merck's lawyer expressed satisfaction over the latest decision.

"We are pleased by today's order because it reaffirms our view that every case is different and should be tried individually," said Ted Mayer of Hughes, Hubbard and Reed, Merck's outside counsel.

"Each plaintiff used the medicine for different lengths of time, took different doses, has a different medical history, and had a different prescribing doctor who made an individual medical judgment based on the information available to that doctor at a particular point in time," the lawyer said.

source - AFP