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Third Circuit reinstates Vioxx class action lawsuit

[JURIST] A three-judge panel of the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reinstated [opinion, PDF] a class-action lawsuit Tuesday against drug maker Merck & Co. [corporate website] over claims relating to its prescription painkiller Vioxx [JURIST news archive]. The lawsuit had been dismissed [JURIST report] by the US District Court of New Jersey in April 2007. In its ruling, the three-judge panel held by a 2-1 margin concluded that "the District Court acted prematurely in finding as a matter of law that Appellants were on inquiry notice of the alleged fraud before October 9, 2001." The panel reversed the dismissal, and remanded the case to the District Court. Merck indicated in a press release [text] that it is weighing whether to appeal the decision to the Third Circuit en banc or appeal directly to the Supreme Court. The Wall Street Journal has more.

In 2007, US District Court Judge Stanley Chester determined that the two-year limitations period on the action started to run in September 2001 with the release of a warning letter [text] from the Food and Drug Administration [official website], coupled with subsequent attention from financial analysts and members of the press. The first fraud complaint against the company was filed in November of 2003. Merck pulled Vioxx from the market in September 2004 after a study showed that it could double the risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for more than 18 months. The price of Merck stock jumped by almost 10% following news of the class action dismissal.

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