NJ Supreme Court rejects Vioxx class action lawsuit

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Merck scored a major legal victory yesterday when New Jersey's Supreme Court rejected a class action lawsuit against the company over its withdrawn pain medication Vioxx.

The state's high court reversed two lower court decisions, ruling that a nationwide class-action lawsuit brought by a New Jersey union health plan on behalf of all insurance plans was not appropriate.

The case could have cost the company an estimated $15 billion to $18 billion, said Chris Seeger, the lead attorney for the union that sued.

“Merck temporarily dodged a bullet,” Seeger told the Associated Press, explaining that he plans to now pursue claims on behalf of individual unions.

Seeger first sued Merck on behalf of the West Caldwell, NJ-based International Union of Operating Engineers Local 68 in October 2003, arguing that if Merck had disclosed the risks of Vioxx earlier, prescription plans would have favored other pain medications.

The New Jersey Supreme Court based its decision on grounds that it would be inappropriate to apply New Jersey's consumer fraud law to claims by third-party payers around the country.

Merck attorney Ted Mayer said in a statement that “The Supreme Court recognized that a class action was improper because each insurance company and HMO considered different types of information in deciding whether to reimburse patients for Vioxx and they all went through varied processes with different experts in making those decisions.” 

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