Thursday, January 27, 2005

Tens of thousands Vioxx class action lawsuit plaintiffs

Number of Vioxx plaintiffs could reach into tens of thousands in the United States alone, according to attorneys who spoke to the press today. The attorneys were attending the first hearing regarding Vioxx class action lawsuits and how to proceed forward. (Related article: Vioxx class action lawsuits against Merck explode)

A panel of seven judges met in Fort Myers, Florida (USA) today to consider where the federal Vioxx class action lawsuits should be consolidated. As expected, Merck argued that all federal cases be placed under one jurisdiction because it will be easy for them. Merck has been actively seeking hearings in conservative courts that are historically friendlier to large corporations and hostile to victims. Merck attorney Norman C. Kleinberg suggested federal districts in Maryland, Indiana, Illinois and New Jersey are equipped to handle consolidation of the large number of complicated cases.

Good estimates are not available yet on the number of lawsuits filed against Merck since the recall of Vioxx in September, 2004. In its annual review earlier this week, Merck reported that as of Dec. 31, 2004, the company has been served or is aware that it has been named as a defendant in approximately 575 lawsuits, which include approximately 1,400 plaintiff groups alleging personal injuries resulting from the use of VIOXX. Some Vioxx attorneys say that the firm is purposely downplaying the number of lawsuits to hide the actual data from investors. The Associated Press research shows that there may be as many as 700 lawsuits. (Related article: Merck's aggressive approach to Vioxx lawsuits)

Considering that by conservative estimates, as many as 140,000 Americans alone may be injured by Vioxx, the number of law suits against Merck could run into tens of thousands on a global basis. The main reason is that attorneys are still collecting information from Vioxx victims. The process of identifying victims has just begun outside the United States.

The judicial panel that met today to consider multi-district litigation (MDL) matters is expected to announce a decision in a few weeks.

In the meantime, Vioxx attorneys have been actively reaching out to victims. Lawyers also met in Philadelphia to develop a strategy for what many analysts expect would be the "mother of all class action lawsuits" if President Bush does not succeed in taking away the rights of American people to sue drugmakers for making lethal drugs like Vioxx.

While Merck has vowed to vigorously fight all lawsuits and has not admitted that it is responsible for even one death, Vioxx attorneys have gotten a lot of help from scientists and researchers who have come up with damning evidence against Merck: that it advertised the drug to patients who did not gain to benefit from it at all, that Merck hid data that linked Vioxx to heart diseases, and that it trained its employees to dodge questions from doctors about the safety of Vioxx. While Merck appears to be in denial about its Vioxx liabilities, most analysts estimate these to be somewhere between $18 billion and $55 billion. Moody's Investor Service today again cut the long-term debt rating of Merck saying that is highly concerned about the total litigation costs related to Vioxx. (Related article: Vioxx litigation lowers Merck credit rating)

Similar lawsuits are being filed against Merck competitor Pfizer, the maker of Celebrex and Bextra, both of which have been found to have serious side effects on the heart. Analysts expect that Pfizer will face the same fate as Merck though Pfizer CEO Hank McKinnell still continues to tout the safety of Celebrex despite several studies that show otherwise. Both the FDA and the EMEA are reviewing if Celebrex and/or Bextra should be recalled. McKinnell has been quoted as saying in recent days that Celebrex sales will rebound soon after FDA will leave Celebrex on the market with just a warning.

Recommended article: FDA should have never approved Vioxx