The first case among those pending in the federal Vioxx multi-district litigation against drugmaker Merck & Co. Inc. (MRK.N: Quote, Profile, Research) will start on Nov. 28, a law firm representing 163 plaintiffs said on Wednesday. 

Merck is facing thousands of product liability lawsuits from patients claiming they were harmed by Vioxx, which was pulled from the market last September after the company determined long-term use of the drug increased the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Judge Eldon E. Fallon of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana is presiding over the litigation in New Orleans.

The case is known as Evelyn Irvin Plunkett v. Merck & Co. Inc. Law firm Beasley Allen said Plunkett’s husband, Richard Irvin Jr., started taking Vioxx for back pain on April 15, 2001 and died from a heart attack one month later at the age of 53.

The first Vioxx trial is currently underway in a Texas state court in Angleton, near Houston. In that case, the family of deceased Robert Ernst is suing the drugmaker.

A spokesman for Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based Merck could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday evening.

Beasley Allen said it is investigating more than 10,000 Vioxx cases and expects to file hundreds of lawsuits against Merck in the coming months. The firm said it is representing Plunkett and 162 other plaintiffs in the federal multi-district litigation.

Vioxx is the trade name for rofecoxib, part of a class of drugs called NSAIDs. It was touted as a pain and inflammation reliever that did not cause ulcers or gastrointestinal bleeding, a side effect of many such medications.

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