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New Jersey’s Supreme Court yesterday rejected a class-action lawsuit against painkiller Vioxx maid by Merck & Co.

The ruling is a huge legal victory for the drug maker, which faces nearly 27,000 individual lawsuits from people claiming Vioxx, once a widely used arthritis treatment, caused heart attacks and strokes.

The state’s highest court, reversing two lower-court decisions, ruled that a nationwide class was not appropriate for the lawsuit. The suit had been brought by a union health plan on behalf of all insurance plans that paid for Vioxx prescriptions – roughly 80 per cent of all Vioxx sold.

A lawyer for the union said because New Jersey’s consumer fraud law allows for triple damages, the case could have cost Merck $15 billion (U.S.) to $18 billion. The company’s annual revenues last year were $22.6 billion.

Had the class action been allowed to proceed, it also would have been a major setback to the company’s strategy of fighting the thousands of Vioxx lawsuits individually. Of the cases that have reached verdicts, Merck has won nine and lost five; a new trial was ordered in another case and two others ended in mistrials this year.

For more information on this subject matter, please refer to the section on Drugs, Medical Devices and Implants.

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