Briton 'left blind and paralysed by Vioxx' begins legal action

Christine Peckham, 53, suffered two strokes and is partially blind and paralysed after taking the drug.

Documents relating to her case were sent to the US yesterday and are due to be filed with the courts there by American lawyers.

British solicitors acting for Mrs Peckham say the court case could start within 12 months. Russell Spargo, of the MSB firm of solicitors in Liverpool, said: "The documents have been prepared and need to be looked at by a cardiologist in the US before they are lodged with the courts. This is just the beginning of the process but we are prepared for a long haul."

More than 4,000 people, including 300 in the UK, plan to sue Merck for negligence over the best-selling painkiller. Merck has denied allegations that it covered up evidence that taking Vioxx was linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The company says it intends to contest every court case and has already set aside millions of dollars to pay for the lengthy and potentially costly legal battles.

But some experts believe that pressure is increasing on Merck to settle the class action after it lost the first case of its kind last week. A jury in Texas ordered the drugs company to pay £141m in damages to the widow of a man who died after taking Vioxx.

Merck faces three more American cases over the coming months, while Mrs Peckham may be the first foreigner to have her action come to trial in the US.

Michael Kelly, a US legal expert, told "If they lose these next three cases, Merck will be in deep trouble. They will have given the plaintiffs a road map on how to successfully try these cases and the pressure for a global settlement of these suits may start to grow."

British people who claim they have suffered as a result of Vioxx are suing in the US because the Legal Services Commission refused them legal aid for a class action in Britain.

In the US system, the cases will proceed on a "no win, no fee" basis.

The alleged victims also stand to win much larger awards by going through the US litigation system.

Mr Spargo said: "In Britain, they may only get £30,000, but in the US some of these cases could be worth millions. This is not about winning large sums of money; for many people it is about getting an explanation and justice for what has happened to them."

He said hundreds more people had contacted his firm after the Texas award.

The UK drugs approval body, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, is investigating whether Merck withheld information about the potential risks of Vioxx when applying for a British licence in 1999.

The US court case heard that concerns about the link with cardiovascular events were raised by Merck's research unit as early as 1998. But as late as 2000, Merck was still aggressively marketing the drug as a safer and more effective alternative to older-style painkillers.

In that year, the company appealed against a decision by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, the body which recommends drug use on the NHS, which had ruled that Vioxx should be prescribed only for people who could not take the older medicines for safety reasons.

Merck withdrew Vioxx last September after a new trial showed that taking it for more than 18 months could double the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform