Thousands of patients outside of the USA could be eligible to sue Merck & Co after a judge found in favour of the plaintiff in a landmark case following the global withdrawal of the painkiller Vioxx (rofecoxib) on safety grounds [[01/10/04a]], [[22/08/05a]].

MSB Solicitors in the UK is ready to seek damages for patients it represents, the BBC reports. One of the first will be Christine Peckham, who suffered two strokes that she believes are directly attributable to taking Vioxx, and resulted in her suffering from epilepsy and blindness. Prior to being prescribed Vioxx, the solicitor firm alleges, Christine was not in any risk category for cardiovascular problems or strokes and she did not drink or smoke.

Lawyer Gerard Dervan told the BBC: "We hope to have Christine's case ready for trial within 12 to 18 months. This is the start of a long fight." The country’s Legal Service Commission will not put funding behind any actions against Merck, so the case is being fought in the USA, where a no-win, no-fee system would apply, adds the BBC.

Vioxx was pulled from the global market last September after a study showed it could be linked to a doubling in heart attack and strokes if patients took the drug for longer than 18 months. Researchers have since estimated that Vioxx may have been related to in excess of 27,000 deaths since its approval in 1999, leaving the door open for a plethora of lawsuits seeking damages. In the first civil trial against Merck, concerning the widow of a man who died suddenly in his sleep after taking Vioxx for tendonitis, the jury awarded a $253 million settlement after finding Merck negligent [[22/08/05a]].

More than 4,200 lawsuits have been filed against Merck concerning Vioxx.