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Merck Braces for Massive Litigation

Merck Braces for Massive Litigation

In anticipation of hundreds of lawsuits against Merck and Co. alleging injuries caused by its arthritis drug, Vioxx, a spokesperson for the New Jersey pharmaceuticals giant stated that Merck will "vigorously defend" any actions filed against it. Experts predict that Merck may face thousands of suits and will likely incur millions of dollars in legal expenses due to the circumstances surrounding its late September recall. Vioxx was pulled after clinical test results indicated that the blockbuster painkiller increased risks of heart attack and stroke. More than 80 million Vioxx prescriptions have been filled since the introduction of the drug in 1999.

Plaintiff's attorneys predict that the recall and the widespread media coverage are uniquely favorable for the plaintiffs in the looming suits. The recall itself may be an indication that Merck will have difficulty justifying the safety of the drug. Having the issue in the public spotlight is said to put the risks associated with Vioxx in the forefront of prospective jurors' minds. The initial Vioxx trials will greatly influence the refinement of both sides' strategies for handling future claims. These first few proceedings will also serve to give plaintiffs' attorneys a better sense of how amenable Merck is to entering into settlements.

After spending millions on marketing the drug to arthritis sufferers, Vioxx became one of Merck's most popular pharmaceuticals ever, earning sales for the prescription drug giant of more than $2 billion dollars in 2003 alone. In the United States, suits have been filed in Illinois, Missouri, Alabama, New Jersey, and Texas with more expected nationwide. Vioxx was prescribed worldwide, and lawsuits are being filed against Merck from around the world. Internationally, class-action lawsuits against Merck have already been filed in Israel and Canada. The Israel lawsuit demands $1.4 billion in damages and alleges that Merck knew of the problems with Vioxx well before the drug was pulled. Plaintiffs' attorneys are planning for massive recoveries like those generated by Baycol, Rezulin, and fen-phen litigation.

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