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Judge denies class action suit on consumer Vioxx costs

March 18, 2009
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The Associated Press reports that a New Jersey judge has rejected efforts by consumers who took the painkiller Vioxx to be able to sue as a group to recover their out-of-pocket costs from the drugmaker Merck & Co. The company, which pulled Vioxx from the market in 2004 because it increased the risk of heart attack and stroke, said Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee denied a request from former Vioxx users to certify a class action lawsuit. Her ruling in a case brought by plaintiffs Elaine Kleinman and Ronald Martin stated it would be "unfair to Merck to certify a class and allow a jury to reach a uniform determination of liability," given that patients who took Vioxx had big differences in how long they took Vioxx, whether they used other pain relievers and other factors. Kleinman and Martin had sued Merck under New Jersey''s Consumer Fraud Act. They claimed the company had known of the cardiovascular risks of Vioxx since 1996, but used various strategies to conceal the risks and overstated the drug''s safety and effectiveness in consumer ads. Merck attorneys had argued a jury would have to consider whether each plaintiff would have kept taking Vioxx if more safety information had been available, as well as factors such as what an alternative drug would have cost. In both those cases, the plaintiffs were seeking only economic damages. Last August, Merck finalized a $4.85 billion settlement that covers nearly all the eligible plaintiffs who blamed Vioxx for a heart attack, stroke or death. Initial payments to those plaintiffs began going out that month. Higbee''s action doesn''t affect that settlement.
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