An Australian judge on Friday found arthritis drug Vioxx doubled the risk of heart attacks and was not fit for sale, opening the way for hundreds of lawsuits against US pharmaceutical giant Merck.
Federal Court judge Christopher Jessop awarded 287,000 dollars (259,000 US) to Graeme Peterson, who sued the company after a 2003 heart attack left him unable to work.
"I have concluded that across a population the consumption of Vioxx about doubled the risk of heart attack," the judge said.
"I have held that because Vioxx involved about a doubling of the risk of heart attack, it was not reasonably fit for the purpose of being used for the relief of arthritic pain."
Merck said it disagreed with the judgement and would appeal. Law firm Slater and Gordon said it knows of 500 Australians who could make similar claims and there may be hundreds more.
"This is truly one for the true believers," said Slater and Gordon deputy chairman Peter Gordon, urging Merck to compensate all affected Australians.
"This is truly a victory for the ages, a victory for justice. The sort of victory you don't see in Australian courts every day."
Merck has paid billions of dollars to litigants after pulling Vioxx from sale in 2004, following an internal study which showed it doubled the risks of heart attack in patients who took it for 18 months or longer.
In November, a published analysis of 30 Vioxx trials said the company could have detected the anti-inflammatory drug's risks nearly four years before its withdrawal.