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.
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