The Oregon Senate narrowly loosened the state's statute of limitations on Tuesday, paving the way for more lawsuits against the manufacturer of the painkiller Vioxx.

By a 20-8 vote, the Senate gave final approval to House Bill 2448, extending the statute of limitations for civil claims for injury or death linked to the use of a "COX-2 inhibitor," including Vioxx.

Merck & Co., the manufacturer to Vioxx, withdrew the drug from the market in September, 2004, after a clinical trial indicated that longtime users faced an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. The company now faces a flood of claims for damages in courts across the country.

But in Oregon, most potential lawsuits stemming from the use of Vioxx have been blocked by an earlier revision of the statute of limitations. In 2003, responding to an Oregon Supreme Court ruling that restricted the time limits for filing product liability lawsuits, the Legislature reinstated a provision allowing legal action within two years of the discovery of an injury.

The 2003 law, however, applied only to injuries that occurred after Jan. 1, 2004. As a result, injuries or deaths linked to the use of a "COX-2 inhibitor" that occurred before that date were subject to the stricter time limits set in the Supreme Court ruling.

HB2448, which now goes to Gov. Ted Kulongoski, would extend the statute of limitations for lawsuits for injuries to four years and for deaths to six years. A similar measure was introduced in the Legislature in 2005 but it was strongly opposed by the pharmaceutical industry and failed to get out of the Senate.



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