UK patients seek compensation after taking rofecoxib

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 02 December 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:1308
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    British lawyers are gearing up to launch a mass compensation claim in the British courts on behalf of hundreds of patients who had strokes or heart attacks after taking the arthritis drug rofecoxib (Vioxx).

    Two law firms, Leigh, Day & Co and Irwin Mitchell, investigated the possibility of suing the manufacturer, Merck, in the United States, but have decided to sue in the British courts instead under the Consumer Protection Act, which covers defective products.

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    At least 90 claimants will sue Merck in the British courts over the side effects of rofecoxib (Vioxx)


    Merck withdrew the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX 2) inhibitor from the worldwide market on 30 September after a long term study showed an increased risk of heart attack and stroke (BMJ 2004;329: 816, 9 Oct).

    So far, about 90 potential British claimants have contacted the two firms, but lawyers believe there could be many more among the 400 000 Britons who took the drug, which has been on the market in the United States and Britain since 1999.

    More than 300 lawsuits have already been filed in the United States, where some predict the drug could give rise to the largest mass tort claim in history, with an estimated bill of up to $18bn (£9.5bn; €13.6bn).

    The Consumer Protection Act makes manufacturers strictly liable for harm caused by their products, without the need to prove that they were negligent, though makers of defective products have a defence if they can show that they could not have been expected to know about the defect at the time.

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