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Vioxx Litigation

A Product Liability Case Study

Vioxx (Rofecoxib) is a COX-2 nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) developed by Merck & Co., which was used to treat symptoms of osteoarthritis, acute pain, and painful menstrual cycles. The use of NSAID's is associated in some patients with serious problems from stomach ulcers, including bleeding. NSAID medications are also associated with liver damage in some patients.

Some of the biggest historic complaints about Vioxx relate not to its safety, but to cost-effectiveness. Some argue that it was overprescribed for treatment of pain which could be managed at least as well with older, less costly medications.

For several years, lawyers have been asserting that Merck was aware of problems experienced by patients taking Vioxx, including the previously mentioned problems with stomach ulcers and liver damage, but also including heart problems and kidney damage. They allege that Merck deliberately suppressed information about these side effects from patients and physicians. Two prominent medical journals have published articles which associate Vioxx use with a significantly heightened risk of heart attack. These side effects are believed to be most likely to occur in patients who took Vioxx for fifteen months or longer.

In September, 2004, Merck announced that it was voluntarily recalling Vioxx from the market. This decision followed a test intended to show that Vioxx could help prevent colon polyps, but which indicated that Vioxx users were twice as likely to suffer heart attacks or strokes as compared to subjects receiving a placebo.

Merck's decision to recall Vioxx is expected to result in an acceleration of the class action litigation being filed against Merck. It may also accelerate the resolution of the litigation. First, many lawyers see the grounds given for the recall as validation for their assertion that Vioxx was an unsafe medication, irresponsibly marketed to patients who would have obtained the same benefit from cheaper, safer medications. Second, there is a possibility that if a large number of lawsuits are filed in different courts, a court may consolidate the litigation.

In some states which permit punitive damages, in the event that it loses the litigation, Merck is likely to attempt to use its voluntary Vioxx recall as evidence to mitigate its liability.

Due to the significant variation in the law governing liability over defective products, when selecting a lawyer, it is usually a good idea to seek representation from a lawyer with experience handling this type of case.