Bextra, Celebrex, Vioxx, and Other Arthritis Drugs (NSAIDs)

Learn whether side effects from taking a non-steroidalanti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) could give rise to a productliability claim.

Many people have suffered serious side effects from taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug ("NSAID") to treat arthritis or another health problem. In some cases, these side effects could form the basis for a defective product liability claim. (For general information about drug related product liability claims, read Nolo's article Product Liability Claims Involving Pharmaceutical Drugs .)

NSAIDs (also called "Cox-2 inhibitors") are used in the treatment of different forms of arthritis, pain and stiffness, menstrual cramps, and other health problems. There are several commonly-prescribed NSAIDs currently on the market, including:

  • Celebrex, and
  • Diclofenac (also sold as "Cataflam," "Voltaren," "Arthrotec").

Many people have reported experiencing serious side effects from taking NSAIDs. In fact, there are a number of NSAIDs that have been pulled off the market because they were discovered to have dangerous side effects, including:

  • Bextra (pulled off the market in 2005), and
  • Vioxx (pulled off the market in 2004).

There have also been a large number of lawsuits against NSAID manufacturers, including several class action lawsuits. Usually, these lawsuits are based on products liability claims.

In a products liability lawsuit, the plaintiff seeks compensation for injuries caused by a consumer product. When the product is a pharmaceutical drug, the most common claims are that:

  • the drug causes unreasonably dangerous side effects, and
  • the manufacturer, doctor, or pharmacy (among others) failed to provide adequate warnings or instructions regarding the use of the drug.

Reported Side Effects of NSAIDs

In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings linking the use of NSAIDs to:

  • increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and sudden cardiac death
  • increased risk of ulcers and bleeding of the stomach or intestines
  • kidney and liver problems including failure
  • life-threatening skin rashes, and
  • life-threatening allergic reactions.

Depending on the specific NSAID you are taking, there may be other possible side effects.

Evaluating Your Potential Claim

In order to evaluate whether you have a valid claim, it helps to know what you must prove in a products liability claim based on your use of an NSAID. As a general matter, you will have to prove three things in order to win your lawsuit:

  • you were injured
  • the NSAID you took causes unreasonably dangerous side effects or the manufacturer, pharmacy, doctor, or others didn't provide adequate warnings or instructions regarding the use of the NSAID, and
  • the NSAID was the cause of your injury.

In products liability claims involving NSAIDs, the outcome of the case often comes down to the second and third issues listed above, and the drug manufacturer and any other defendants will likely fight you on both.

Keep in mind that many drugs are known to carry serious risks; so as long as you are properly advised of those risks and you and your doctors decide the risks are worth taking in view of your condition, even if you suffer serious side effects you probably won't have much of a lawsuit. (To learn more about evaluating and proving a drug related product liability claim, read Nolo's article Proving a Defective Product Liability Claim.)

You may also have a medical malpractice claim or other legal claims depending on the details of your particular case. (To learn more about medical malpractice, read Nolo's article Medical Malpractice Basics.)

How Long Do I Have To File My Lawsuit?

The answer to this very important question may vary depending on the law of the state that applies to your claim. Every state sets certain time limits, called the "statute of limitations," on bringing product liability claims. (To learn more about these time limits, read Nolo's article Time Limits for Filing a Defective Product Liability Claim. For the time limit to bring injury lawsuits in your state, see Chart: Statutes of Limitations in All 50 States.)

As with any personal injury lawsuit, file your lawsuit as soon as possible, or at a minimum, make sure you know the deadline.

Class Action Lawsuits

If a large number of people suffered similar side effects from taking the same NSAID you took, you may be able to band together and file a class action lawsuit.

In some cases, a class action may already have been filed in connection with the NSAID that injured you. In recent years, class action lawsuits have been filed in connection with Bextra, Celebrex, and Vioxx. You may have the option of joining that already existing lawsuit. (To learn about the pros and cons of joining a class action, read Nolo's article Product Liability Claims Involving Pharmaceutical Drugs .)

Getting Help

Defective product cases involving NSAIDs or other pharmaceutical drugs are usually not the kind of lawsuits in which you can represent yourself effectively. The legal and medical issues in such cases are often complex and sophisticated. Depending on your case, you may wish to retain the services of a lawyer who specializes in products liability (and perhaps even one who specializes in drug cases).

You may also want to consult with a lawyer to find out if there is an already existing class action concerning the NSAID that you took, and if so, whether it is advisable for you to join that class action. (If there is an already existing class action, consider contacting the lawyers for the class directly; they will likely be very interested in talking with you.) Such initial consultations are usually free of charge.

For help in choosing a good personal injury attorney, read Nolo's article Finding a Personal Injury Lawyer. Or, go to Nolo's Lawyer Directory for a list of personal injury attorneys in your geographical area (click on the "Types of Cases" and "Work History" tabs to find out about the lawyer's experience, if any, with pharmaceutical drug cases.)

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