Merck & Co. may have to defend against as many as three lawsuits in California's first trial over the painkiller Vioxx.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Victoria Gerrard Chaney said Monday that she might allow more than one plaintiff depending on how much expert testimony overlaps. Merck attorneys want the trial, scheduled to start June 21, limited to one suit.
Merck faces about 10,000 suits from people who say they were harmed by Vioxx. The company withdrew the drug in 2004 after a study indicated an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in long-term users.
Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., has set aside $970 million to fight the suits, winning two and losing one in trials since August.
A jury in Atlantic City, N.J., is also hearing two lawsuits by former Vioxx users who blame the drug for their heart attacks. The proceeding is the second Vioxx trial in New Jersey.
About 2,000 Vioxx cases are consolidated in California. Chaney will select plaintiffs for the first trial, which is meant to establish a road map for state judges in subsequent trials.
Merck argued that having more than one plaintiff would confuse jurors, create logistical problems and make evaluating future cases more difficult.
Plaintiffs' attorneys said about 75% of their expert witnesses were the same, making it more efficient to try several cases at once.