The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that Vioxx users who suffered no known harm from the withdrawn pain drug cannot sue Merck & Co Inc to pay for medical tests and treatment by heart doctors, the drugmaker said Wednesday.
In the latest in a string of recent legal victories for Merck, the court agreed with a trial court that dismissed the medical monitoring suit in 2005. An appellate court later ruled that the original dismissal was premature.
Under the ruling, former Vioxx users who were not hurt by the drug will not be permitted to sue Merck to pay for electrocardiograms and follow-up consultations with cardiologists.
Merck pulled the widely used arthritis and pain drug in September 2004 after a study found it doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke in patients who used the medicine for at least 18 months.
In its ruling, the court noted that the plaintiffs have not alleged any personal physical injury. “Thus, we conclude that because plaintiffs cannot satisfy the definition of harm to state a product liability claim under the Product Liability Act, plaintiffs’ claim for medical monitoring damages must fail,” the court said.
Merck had argued that there is no medical science supporting the plaintiffs’ position that they need to be monitored for cardiovascular conditions almost four years after Vioxx was taken off the market.
“The New Jersey Supreme Court has made it clear that you cannot bring a medical monitoring claim unless you allege you were injured by a product,” Merck attorney Ted Mayer said in a statement.
In recent weeks, Texas appeals courts have reversed a pair of multimillion-dollar jury awards against Merck and a New Jersey court reversed punitive damages and awards of legal fees and costs that had been levied against Merck in jury trials.
Of the 18 plaintiffs whose cases went to trial, only three now have outstanding product liability judgments against Merck, the company said. It has yet to pay any plaintiffs.
Last November, Merck agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle thousands of Vioxx personal injury claims brought by former users who suffered heart attacks and strokes. At the time the settlement was announced, Merck was facing some 26,600 Vioxx personal injury lawsuits.
Merck shares were up 26 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $38.23 in morning trade on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Reporting by Bill Berkrot and Lewis Krauskopf, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)
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