Verdict Could Affect Cases Around the Country
A potentially landmark decision issued by Judge Eldon Fallon of the United States District of Louisiana could have a domino effect on defective medication claims across the nation brought by state attorney generals against pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. This claim, brought by the Attorney General for the State of Louisiana, is the second victory for Merck in an attorney general suit - a case brought by the State of Texas ended in a summary judgment for the company. There are still 11 similar lawsuits pending around the country.
What Is Vioxx?
Vioxx is a well-known prescription medication that, prior to its being withdrawn from the market in 2004, was widely used to treat symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. It was preferred by many physicians because it was shown to cause less gastrointestinal distress than other similar medications. Unfortunately, long-term research studies showed that it nearly doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes in those using the drug.
What Has Happened Since it was Taken off the Market?
Almost immediately after Vioxx was recalled, lawsuits were filed by patients who had suffered the severe and previously unknown cardiopulmonary side effects of the medication - and by the families of those who lost their lives. Merck withstood the criticism initially, and prevailed at 11 of the first 16 cases to go to trial, but they eventually created a multi-billion dollar settlement fund to allow Vioxx-related claims to be streamlined.
Merck's settlement fund did not address all the possible claims against it, however. Specifically, the fund is only intended to be used for individual (and family) claims, not those from businesses or government agencies. Corporate and municipal cases are still being brought to recover funds that had been reimbursed to Merck by Medicare, Medicaid and other social service programs.
Judge Fallon's verdict states that there was no proof that Louisiana could prove that, even if they had known Vioxx did have unintended (and possibly undisclosed) side effects, it would have stopped reimbursing Merck for the medication. Furthermore, there was no proof that the state could have stopped making the payments even it if wanted to.
What Will Happen Now?
Louisiana is currently investigating options for appealing all or part of the verdict, but for now the precedent set by this case stands. Even if this suit does result in all government agencies being barred from recovering payments sent to Merck, individuals suffering from heart attacks or strokes due to the use of Vioxx may have the right to seek compensation. If you have used Vioxx or other harmful medication, consulting a personal injury attorney in your area with experience handling cases involving defective medications is an important step towards protecting your rights.