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Tallying the Vioxx Lawsuits

Merck on Friday announced the number of Vioxx-related lawsuits filed against it as of Sept. 30. "That date is crucial," writes lawyer and Fortune senior editor Roger Parloff at his new blog Legal Pad, "because it represents the second-year anniversary of the company's withdrawal of Vioxx from the market, and the vast majority of states have either one- or two-year statutes of limitations for personal injury suits."

The grand total as of Sept. 30 was 23,800 suits on behalf of 41,750 "plaintiff groups." (A group might include a victim's spouse or dependents.) In addition to those, Merck faces 275 class actions, including suits for personal injuries, consumer fraud and prescription reimbursements.

The Sept. 30 date is important for another reason, Parloff says:

"Because most of the filing is complete, Merck can realistically begin to consider moving toward a settlement strategy without worrying that its willingness to settle would entice a deluge of suits by lawyers and clients seeking quick and easy money. Though the company is still pledging to fight every one, that might be a posture it can begin relaxing."

Parloff's post drew a response from Merck's outside lawyers at Hughes Hubbard & Reed, who noted that the clock had not yet run out on Vioxx suits:

"You are correct that in most states the statute of limitatations has now run. But by our count when it comes to personal injury lawsuits, there are still 28 states with longer limits and in death cases, there are 16 more states."

No matter the tally, Merck's lawyers tell Parloff, they have no intention of relaxing the posture of their defense. To the contrary, they say, they'll continue to "look at this litigation on a case by case basis."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on October 23, 2006 at 02:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

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