Merck Suffers Potential Legal Setback in Vioxx Case

In what may be a devastating blow to drug maker Merck, a New Jersey appeals court overturned a lower court’s decision to dismiss a proposed class-action suit against the company. In a unanimous ruling, the three-judge panel declared that the lower court “prematurely terminated plaintiffs’ opportunity” for legal recourse and must reconsider the case.

The proposed class-action suit seeks to hold Merck financially responsible for coronary <"">testing of former Vioxx patients–including those who haven’t yet shown signs of adverse reactions. That group may very well include hundreds of thousands of former Vioxx patients.

Merck pulled Vioxx off the market in 2004 after discovering that the arthritis drug doubled the risks of heart attack and stroke. The company is currently facing more than 27,000 personal-injury lawsuits in addition to 265 potential class-action suits.

The original ruling in the case, now overturned, was handed down by New Jersey Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee. Higbee is still in charge of roughly 15,000 Vioxx-related cases, including two that are going to product-liability trial next week.

If Merck is held responsible for medical monitoring of former Vioxx users, their legal bill may skyrocket. Some estimates have placed the total potential damages as high as $50 billion.

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