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Actionable Injury in Vioxx Claim Against Manufacturer; Limitations


A company manufactured and distributed a medication to relieve pain and inflammation for a period of five years. A patient began taking the drug during the first year the drug was available. A year after the patient began taking the drug, the patient suffered cardiovascular injuries while taking the medication. The patient’s doctor continued to prescribe the patient the drug for two years, after which time the manufacturer changed its label to disclose the risk of cardiovascular injuries associated with the use of the drug. The drug was removed from the market two years later.

 

Over the five-year period the drug was on the market, scientists became increasingly confident that the use of the drug entailed a risk of cardiovascular injuries. Beginning the same year, the patient suffered cardiovascular injuries while taking the medication, the media covered reports of a possible link between the drug and cardiovascular incidents. At the same time, the manufacturer publicly argued that no sound conclusions relating to cardiovascular risks could be drawn from the available studies.

 

The patient filed a personal injury lawsuit against the manufacturer four years after the patient stopped taking the drug, which was more than five years after the patient suffered cardiovascular injuries while taking the medication. The manufacturer filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the patient’s claims were barred by Missouri’s five-year statute of limitations.

 

The patient presented evidence that, prior to five years before the patient filed the complaint, science was only beginning to piece together a causal theory. For example, five years and one month before the patient filed the complaint the American Medical Association’s flagship journal found that “considerable uncertainty” remained as to the apparent connection between the drug and cardiovascular injuries, “no data” existed on whether “the most frequent pattern of use” of the drug caused any heart problems at all, and more studies were needed. At the same time, the manufacturer’s representatives and scientists were publicly contesting the validity of the scientific claims suggesting a possible heart risk from the use of the drug and the manufacturer had yet to add any warnings of cardiovascular risks to the drug’s label.

 

The United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri granted the manufacturer’s motion and determined as a matter of law that, because the patient’s claims accrued prior to five years before the complaint was filed, the suit was time-barred.

 

The Eighth Circuit United States Court of Appeals reversed. The court held that there were material issues of fact as to whether the statute of limitations had run.

 

Material issues of fact remained regarding whether, prior to five years before the patient filed the complaint, the evidence was such to place a reasonably prudent person in the patient’s position on notice of a potentially actionable injury. The court found that the causal theory linking the drug to heart problems was only beginning to emerge in the scientific community prior to five years before the patient filed the complaint. The court noted that publicly available information from news media reports was relevant to whether notice of a potentially actionable injury existed, but was not determinative as a matter of law. Consequently, the manufacturer failed to clearly establish that there were no material issues of fact as to whether the statute of limitations had run. The court predicted that the Missouri Supreme Court would conclude that knowledge in the medical community of a possible link did not, as a matter of law, place a reasonably prudent person in the patient’s position on notice of a potentially actionable injury. The court concluded that the district court improperly granted judgment on the pleadings in favor of the manufacturer.

 

The Eighth Circuit United States Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s dismissal of the patient’s claims against the manufacturer.

 

See: Levitt v. Merck & Company, Inc., 2019 WL 418018 (C.A.8 (Mo.), February 4, 2019) (not designated for publication).

 

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