While Merck spoke briefly about a settlement of pending lawsuits in the Vioxx recall case, it decided to backtrack and now maintains a position of fighting one lawsuit at a time. With as many as 60,000 reportedly dead after taking the drug, the litigation is expected to drag on for years – exactly as the company wants it. Legal experts, however, believe that in the end Merck will settle the lawsuits.
The judges, on the other hand, have been hoping that both parties will have a clear picture of the facts after a few lawsuits go to trial and then settlement talks can be started. However, an unlikely factor – Hurricane Katrina – is making it difficult for trials to move forward rapidly. Since the recall on September 30, 2004, only two three cases have been tried.
It was, therefore, no surprise that U.S. District Judge Judge Eldon Fallon is saying that he may be forced to stop his efforts to combine the cases for potential settlement. At a hearing, he says that he might “shut down” the consolidation “if all the cases are being tried in state court before we get one tried in federal court.” If the Judge proceeds forward with his threat, he will send all federal cases to state courts. In that case, victims will have no choice but to wait for their cases to go to trial.
In a related development, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee, who is presiding over the cases in the state, recently said in an interview that if all the over-4,000 lawsuits pending before her go to trial and take as long as Humeston case, Higbee would need 583 years to hear them all.