Merck Fights Vioxx Cases One at a Time Thousands of people have sued pharmaceutical giant Merck over Vioxx, its one-time blockbuster painkiller. The company is fighting the lawsuits one case at a time, instead of settling with large groups of plaintiffs. Observers are debating Merck's strategy.
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Merck Fights Vioxx Cases One at a Time

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Merck Fights Vioxx Cases One at a Time

Law

Merck Fights Vioxx Cases One at a Time

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In California this week, the pharmaceutical company Merck scored another victory in the Vioxx litigation. It's has won five of the eight cases that have gone to trial.

Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market in 2004 after a study showed the painkiller doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes. NPR's Snigdha Prakash reports.

SNIGDHA PRAKASH reporting:

When a company faces thousands of product liability cases, as Merck does with Vioxx, the early cases are closely watched for clues to which side is more likely to prevail. There are those who think this latest victory doesn't tell us much about who'll come out ahead in the Vioxx cases, Merck or the plaintiffs.

Among them is law professor Howard Erickson of the Seton Hall School of Law.

Professor HOWARD ERICKSON (Seaton Hall School of Law): This is litigation. This is not a horserace.

PRAKASH: Merck faces some 16,000 Vioxx cases, and even if it wins a series of cases, Erickson says, the plaintiffs and their lawyers aren't going to drop those cases, because they know they can win.

But others think this latest victory is significant, such as stock analyst Michael Krensavage of Raymond James and Company. Krensavage says the latest win is just another sign that it's difficult for Vioxx plaintiffs to prove that their heart problems were caused by Vioxx, when many other factors such as age, obesity, or high cholesterol also put them at risk of heart problems.

Krensavage says this win strengthens Merck's position and shows the company is right not to enter into a mass settlement with plaintiffs. After all, he says, the world's largest tobacco company has paid very little in similar product liability cases.

Mr. MICHAEL KRENSAVAGE (Stock Analyst, Raymond James and Company): Philip Morris has paid about $100 million in ten years of litigation by individual smokers. So it's the absolute correct strategy for Merck to pursue to fight every case, because it's not going to pay for years.

PRAKASH: So far, the most Merck would have to pay to the three plaintiffs who won their cases is about $50 million. Another Vioxx trial is underway in New Orleans right now, and there are likely to be half a dozen more before the year ends.

Snigdha Prakash, NPR News, Washington.

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