Today is September 30, 2006, two years to the day when Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market because of concerns of increased heart attack risk; we told you back in December that, because the statute of limitations in many states was two years, one could expect the number of Vioxx suits to skyrocket around now, and that prediction is coming true. (Peter Loftus, "Number of Vioxx-Related Lawsuits Tops 22,000 as Key Deadline Nears", Wall Street Journal, Sep. 29; AP, Sep. 29).
The forum-shopping decision seems to have led to New Jersey, where Judge Higbee has made a series of plaintiff-friendly rulings, including the questionable decision to throw out the Humeston defense verdict. The number of cases there has nearly doubled to over 14,000, while the number of federal cases is up only 15% to 6,535. Mark Lanier's October threat to file 18,000 cases across the country in multiple state courts to try ten at a time doesn't seem to have been executed; will the press remember this bluff in future fawning press coverage?
There are another 5800 plaintiffs out there with agreements with Merck to extend the statute of limitations. The Wall Street Journal repeats the mistake of neglecting to mention how many of the 22,000 lawsuits have multiple plaintiffs; if ratios have been consistent across different jurisdictions, those 22,000 lawsuits represent about 37,000 plaintiff groups, and still do not include the rush to the courthouse in the last week or two.
Of course, not all of these cases will be tried. AP quotes Merck defense attorney Ted Mayer as saying 328 federal cases have been dismissed (though doesn't follow up to determine if those have been dismissed with prejudice).