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U.S. court bars Vioxx lawsuits from Britain

  International  -   POSTED: 2007/07/31 18:32

An appellate court on Tuesday ruled that 98 people from the England and Wales cannot sue Merck & Co. in New Jersey for health claims arising from their use of the once-popular painkiller Vioxx. The New Jersey three-judge panel affirmed the decision of the state judge who is handling all of the more than 15,000 such lawsuits filed against the drug maker, which is based in New Jersey. The ruling is a victory for Merck, which maintains that the New Jersey court was an improper forum for foreign plaintiffs.

A lawyer for the British plaintiffs, Michael A. Galpern, said they will be considering whether to appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

"We believe today's decision took an unrealistic view of English Law, and entirely disregarded the plain fact that the United Kingdom's loser pays system means that pensioners must now run the risk that Merck may take their house if they lose this case," Galpern said.

He said it was ironic that Merck said New Jersey was an inconvenient location to defend itself.

"The effect of today's ruling will be to make it much cheaper and easier for American companies to injure and kill non-U.S. residents," Galpern said.

Merck lawyer Charles W. Cohen applauded the ruling, asserting that the lawsuits should be filed in Britain, where the plaintiff's medical records and witnesses are located.

He noted that a similar finding was reached last year by the judge handling all the federal lawsuits, who dismissed lawsuits from residents of France and Italy.

Merck pulled Vioxx from the market in 2004 after research showed it doubled cardiovascular risks. The number of pending personal injury lawsuits against Merck have declined recently, to about 26,950, as some claims were dismissed. The company maintains it will not change its strategy of fighting each lawsuit.

Cases filed in New Jersey are all being handled by one judge, state Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee in Atlantic City.

Cases filed in various federal courts have been sent to New Orleans, where they are before U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon.

Merck has won nine cases and lost five that have reached verdicts; it is appealing all its losses and faces retrials involving three other plaintiffs.


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