Hundreds Try To Join Vioxx Lawsuits

Merck pulled Vioxx after a study by the company showed people who took the drug had a greater risk for heart attack or stroke.

Shortly after, ads began running all over TV, radio, and the newspaper: attorneys urging people to join in on lawsuits against Merck. An East Texas man is one of 10 people in a lawsuit filed this week by a Tyler attorney.

James Williams, 47, takes walks with his wife, but says he doesn't have the energy he used to. The turning point: eight months ago, when he had his first heart attack.

"It was a very, very total shock because maybe a month or two before then, I was on the basketball court, running up and down refereeing basketball games, having a great time, no signs of anything that was wrong," he said.

No personal or family history of heart problems either, he says. But Williams did take Vioxx for about five years for arthritis in his knee and tennis elbow.

So he called Tyler attorney, Blake Bailey, to try to join a lawsuit against the drug's maker.

"Merck created a product that made billions of dollars off of, and from day one, was very aggressively hiding deleterious effects from using the drug," Bailey said.

Bailey cites a warning letter from the FDA to Merck, dating back to 2001. The letter states: "You have engaged in a promotional campaign for Vioxx that minimizes the potentially serious cardiovascular findings that were observed in the Vioxx Gastrointestinal Outcomes Research (VIGOR) study..."

"I think, in this particular case, we also have the right to ask for punitive damages because of the conduct of Merck," Bailey said.

Ads are being run by lawyers from East Texas, out of town, and even out of state. Attorneys are getting flooded with phone calls from people eager for representation. But only a handful of people actually get their name on a lawsuit.

James Williams is one of those names. His lawyer says he matches the profile of someone who could've been a victim of Vioxx.

However, a local pharmacist with Mother Frances Hospital says the correlation between the drug and heart problems is difficult to prove.

"Could it be a factor? Yes. Is it the only thing that could have been doing it? No. Because sudden cardiac death happens everyday to lots of people who have no risk factors," Kurt Lorenz, Pharm.D., said.

Nevertheless, Williams hopes to win the suit and get a good sum of money to help pay for medical bills. As for the joint pain, he's staying away from prescription drugs for now and sticking with over-the-counter painkillers.

In its lawsuit against Merck, the Bailey Law Firm is asking for $10 million in actual damages for each plaintiff and $20 million each in punitive damages, plus attorney fees and other penalties.

Julie Tam, reporting.