Updated from 1:05 p.m. EST
Thousands of federal lawsuits claiming
Vioxx killed or injured people by causing heart attacks cannot be pooled into one national class action, a judge ruled Wednesday.
The Associated Press reported that U.S. District Court Judge Eldon Fallon rejected the plaintiffs' proposal to try all of the cases under the laws in New Jersey, where Merck is headquartered.
Fallon was appointed to deal with pretrial matters for all federal suits involving the painkiller, which Merck withdrew in late 2004 after a study linked the arthritis drug to heart attacks.
The judge didn't rule on the possibility of separate class-actions suits for each state and the District of Columbia, the AP reported. It makes more sense to apply the law of each plaintiff's home state to that plaintiff's claims, Fallon ruled.
"We are pleased by today's order because it reaffirms our view that every case is different and should be tried individually," said Ted Mayer of Hughes Hubbard & Reed, Merck's outside counsel. "Each plaintiff used the medicine for different lengths of time, took different doses, has a different medical history, and had a different prescribing doctor who made an individual medical judgment."
Plaintiff lawyer Mark Lanier, who has won two Vioxx cases against Merck, called the decision "the right ruling" in an interview on CNBC.
Merck rose 22 cents to $44.44.