First New Hampshire Vioxx lawsuit is filed

A Newbury woman and her lawyer have filed what appears to be the state’s first Vioxx lawsuit.

Joyce DiMauro and her lawyer, Thomas Braun of Manchester, filed the suit against Merck & Co. Inc. in U.S. District Court. They have asked that the case be transferred to a federal court in New Orleans, where a single federal judge has been assigned to handle hundreds of individual and class-action suits filed over the once-popular prescription pain reliever and anti-inflammatory.

Merck, the drug’s manufacturer, pulled Vioxx off the market in September after studies showed that it increased the risk of heart attack and strokes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Vioxx in 1999 for treating arthritis and other pain relief, but Merck continued to study the drug in hope of proving that it was easier on the stomach and digestive system than over-the-counter alternatives such as aspirin and ibuprofen.

DiMauro and other plaintiffs charge that Merck officials learned through such studies that Vioxx seemed to raise risks of heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke, but kept quiet and later downplayed the findings.

DiMauro was prescribed Vioxx for back and neck pain, her suit states, though it doesn’t specify when. She took 50 milligrams a until suffering a heart attack on March 21, 2002, her suit states.

U.S. District Court Judge Eldon Fallon presided over the first pretrial hearing on the Vioxx lawsuits on Friday, and he began by urging lawyers for both sides to think about working out a settlement.

Fallon’s first task will be to appoint a handful of lawyers to a “plaintiffs steering committee,” which will handle the heavy lifting in the case, taking depositions and gathering documents for evidence.

Fallon said he plans to appoint the committee before the next hearing on April 28.

Drug industry experts’ estimates of Merck’s potential liability in the Vioxx cases range from $4 billion to $30 billion.

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