The final bill for Merck’s Vioxx fiasco is just beginning to be toted up and it’s sure to be a whopper. Before it pulled Vioxx off the market on September 30 because of the cardiac risks the painkiller could pose to long-term users, Merck faced hundreds of individual lawsuits and at least one class action filed on behalf of Vioxx users who allegedly suffered serious and sometimes fatal side effects from taking the drug. 

Since then the legal soup has only gotten deeper and hotter for the Whitehouse Station company. Dozens more individual suits have been filed in state courts, as well as new class actions in federal court in Oklahoma City and Newark on behalf of all those who suffered serious health effects while taking the drug.

“The key liability issue is obviously to demonstrate whatever injury they had was caused solely by Vioxx,” says Fred Gerson, a Florham Park attorney who is co-counsel for the plaintiffs in 30 individual cases pending against Merck in state court in Atlantic City. While Merck declined to comment on the suits against it, a spokesman says the company believes it has “strong and meritorious defenses” to assert.

New Jersey is certain to be a key legal battleground. Last year all cases in state court claiming injuries from the drug were consolidated before Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee in Atlantic City. Her roster of cases had grown to 175 as of last month and lawyers say they expect it to swell rapidly. Because New Jersey is Merck’s home state, the company can’t shift cases filed against it in state court here to federal court. Sol Weiss, whose Cherry Hill law firm is handling 86 of the 175 cases before Higbee, says state court can offer plaintiffs quicker hearings for their claims and friendlier juries than federal venues.

With an estimated 84 million people having taken Vioxx worldwide, the pool of potential plaintiffs is vast. Local law firms have been trying to pull in business with newspaper and radio ads urging people who may have suffered cardiac problems while taking the drug to contact them to discuss their rights.

Lawyers involved in the cases say they expect the final cost to Merck to fall somewhere between the roughly $1 billion Bayer had agreed to pay 2,825 people who claimed adverse effects from the anti-cholesterol drug Baycol, as of August, and the more than $16.6 billion that Madison-based Wyeth had reserved, as of June 30, to cover claims from people who say they were harmed by its fen-phen diet drugs.

In explaining the decision to recall Vioxx, which had been generating annual sales of $2.5 billion, Merck executives said they acted promptly after receiving clear statistical proof from a rigorous clinical study that the drug posed a higher risk of heart attack and stroke for long-term users.

However, Merck had consistently challenged the results of three previous studies dating back to 2000 that had pointed to possible cardiac risks associated with Vioxx. Merck called those studies ambiguous or inconclusive. But in 2001 the FDA required the company to add a new warning of possible cardiac risks to its Vioxx labeling.

The question of how Merck handled the information it had on Vioxx will be critical to juries, says Andy Birchfield, a Montgomery, Alabama, lawyer whose firm is co-counsel to plaintiffs in 37 of the New Jersey cases. Birchfield says the big questions will be, “What did Merck know, when did it know it,” and whether “there has been a big cover up.”

We're here to help!

We live by our creed of "helping those who need it most" and have helped thousands of clients get the justice they desperately needed and deserved. If you feel you have a case or just have questions please contact us for a free consultation. There is no risk and no fees unless we win for you.

Fields marked    may be required for submission.
  1. I'm an attorney

Merck to pay $830 million to settle investors’ Vioxx...

Merck announced Friday it will pay $830 million to settle investor complaints accusing it of committing...

Merck to pay nearly $1 billion for illegal marketing...

American pharmaceutical company Merck, Sharp & Dohme has agreed to pay $950 million to resolve criminal...

Merck paying more than 3,100 vioxx death claims

Merck & Co. is paying claims by the families of more than 3,100 users of its Vioxx painkiller who...

Settlement limits insurers' claims in Vioxx deal

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Former Vioxx users getting part of a $4.85 billion settlement ending most personal...

Persistence pays in Vioxx litigation

Plaintiffs get close to $5B, but Merck could have done a lot worse. Attorneys who spent nearly one year...

Vioxx settlement payments to begin in August

Merck & Co., manufacturer of Vioxx, announced it will make the first payment of $500 million on Aug....

Excellent law firm

Beasley Allen is an excellent law firm. I highly recommend their services.

—William M.