Appellate Court oks transfer of Vioxx claims to Cook County

By Steve Korris | Feb 7, 2008

MOUNT VERNON – Fifteen Illinois residents and a Missourian claiming Vioxx pills injured them can pursue claims against drug maker Merck in Cook County though they live elsewhere, the Fifth District appellate court ruled Feb. 1.

The Fifth District affirmed St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael O'Malley, who denied a motion from Merck to send the plaintiffs to their own courthouses.

Merck at least succeeded in moving the plaintiffs out of St. Clair County, where Jeffrey Lowe of Clayton, Mo., filed their claims.

Lowe sued Merck in 2005 on behalf of four plaintiffs, and followed in 2006 with a pair of suits on behalf of nine and 11 plaintiffs.

Five of his 24 plaintiffs lived in Cook County, three each in St. Clair and Champaign counties, two each in Adams and Sangamon counties, and one each in Montgomery, DuPage, Gallatin, Tazewell, McLean, Effingham, Jackson and Wayne counties.

One lived in Missouri.

Merck removed the suits to U.S. district court, but the federal court remanded them to St. Clair County.

Merck asked O'Malley to sever the individual claims and transfer all but the St. Clair County plaintiffs to more convenient courts.

Lowe answered that if O'Malley decided to transfer claims, he should transfer them all to Cook County.

In January 2007, O'Malley transferred the claims to Cook County.

Merck appealed, unsuccessfully.

Fifth District Justice Bruce Stewart held that O'Malley did not abuse his discretion.

Merck's Illinois office and registered agent are in Chicago, Stewart wrote, and Merck leases property in Cook County.

Other Vioxx cases are pending in Cook County, he wrote.

Justices Melissa Chapman and James Wexstten concurred.

O'Malley retains jurisdiction over Vioxx claims of local residents Demetrius Hardaway, Curtis Bobo and James Sanders for the estate of Betty Sanders.

Dan Ball and David Dick, of Bryan Cave in St. Louis, represent Merck.

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