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Vioxx heads to court . . . again

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SCOTT JAGOW: The drug company Merck goes back to court today. This is trial No. 11 over the heart problems caused by its painkiller Vioxx. At this rate, the great-great-great grandchildren of Merck's attorneys will still be trying cases, but the caseload is actually starting to shrink a bit. From the Health Desk at WGBH, Helen Palmer reports.


HELEN PALMER: At least 3,000 plaintiffs suing Merck over Vioxx have backed out or had their cases dismissed.

Trial watchers say it's all part of a strategic shake-out of weak cases. Merck says the abandoned suits show the company's strategy of fighting every case is paying off. It has won more than half of the cases to date.

But Howard Erichson of Seton Hall Law School warns the company not to get cocky.

HOWARD ERICHSON: This is litigation, it's not a baseball game, it's not something where you can keep simply keep score.

Erichson says Merck's lost enough cases to worry, notably a $253 million jury award last year.

Merck's strategy has also drained its resources. The company's already spent $285 million of the $920 million it set aside for Vioxx legal costs. With more than 20,000 cases still pending, sooner or later there will have to be settlements or more cash to litigate.

I'm Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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