March 31, 2006

Court Upholds Vioxx Class Action against Merck

NEW YORK -- A New Jersey appellate court on Friday upheld a judge's decision to certify a national class action against Merck & Co. Inc. for some cases involving the drugmaker's withdrawn pain medicine Vioxx, attorneys representing plaintiffs said.

The Appellate Division decided that New Jersey Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee properly exercised her discretion in certifying a nationwide class, consisting of non-governmental health plans that paid for members' Vioxx prescriptions.

Merck is facing nearly 10,000 lawsuits from people who claim to have been harmed by Vioxx and accuse Merck of knowing about increased heart risks associated with the medicine long before it pulled the drug from the market.

This suit is seeking to recover losses incurred in purchasing the painkiller for health plans. The third-party payors would be entitled to triple damages if successful on their claims, attorneys from the law firm Seeger Weiss LLP said.

Judge Higbee, on July 29, 2005, granted a motion by the class representative -- a labor union health plan -- to allow the lawsuit to proceed as a nationwide class-action, based on allegations that Merck engaged in widespread concealment of information concerning the safety and serious health risks of Vioxx.

"The decision applies to all non-governmental, third-party payors in the country, including health insurers, unions, and large employers who paid for Vioxx prescriptions for their plan members," Chris Seeger, lead attorney for the class representative, said in a statement.

Merck pulled the $2.5 billion a year drug from the market in September 2004 after a study showed it doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke in patients taking it for more than 18 months, setting off a wave of lawsuits.