April 17, 2007
Texas judge’s ruling may aid Merck’s defense of 1,000 Vioxx cases: WSJ
A Texas judge might soon issue a ruling that could weaken the legal basis for all 1,000 Vioxx cases brought against Merck by plaintiffs in that state, The Wall Street Journal reported. Harris County District Court Judge Randy Wilson, who oversees all of the Texas Vioxx cases, informed both sides in a state-court Vioxx lawsuit that he will dismiss the case based on a recently finalized rule. Wilson said he would issue his written order as soon as this week. The judge is overseeing a case brought by Rudy Ledbetter, who blamed her heart attack on Vioxx, which was withdrawn from the market in September 2004 due to cardiovascular risks. Wilson said he was granting Merck’s motion to dismiss Ledbetter’s case, citing an FDA policy rule issued in February 2006. The rule states that the agency’s approval process trumps state law in how manufacturers of healthcare products must warn consumers about their potential risks. It still wasn’t clear how or if the rule would apply to Vioxx, which was approved long before 2006. However, a majority of pharmaceutical product-liability cases hinge on whether or not a drugmaker has adequately warned of a drug’s risks – as have most of the Vioxx trials to date, of which Merck has won 10 and lost five. Merck faces approximately 28,000 Vioxx lawsuits nationwide. Texas is one of three states that have consolidated litigation in order to streamline proceedings. More than half of the 28,000 cases are consolidated in New Jersey, where Merck has its headquarters. There are roughly 4,500 cases consolidated in California.