Four German patients have joined a US class-action lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant Merck and Co. over its controversial arthritis painkiller Vioxx, according to a report published Sunday. Germany's Bild am Sonntag said the first German patients would add their names to the suit against Merck on Monday in Chicago, accusing the company of continuing to sell Vioxx even after grave concerns about the drug arose. "Thousands of victims could have been avoided if Merck had acted responsibly," Berlin attorney Andreas Schulz, who is representing 1,042 people who claim to have suffered severe side effects from Vioxx, told the newspaper. He said that Merck should have taken Vioxx off the market one year before it did, due to what he said was already clear evidence that the product could increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Schulz said he hoped to reach an out-of-court settlement with Merck, which is facing a deluge of lawsuits over Vioxx. A Texas jury in August awarded damages totaling more than 253 million dollars to Carol Ernst, whose 59-year-old triathlete husband, Robert, died in May 2001 from heart failure after using Vioxx to treat pain in his hands. Merck has been bombarded with lawsuits around the world since it pulled the $2.5-billion-a-year (2.1 billion euro) seller Vioxx from the market in September 2004 after an internal study showed it increased the risk of strokes and heart attacks. The drug was taken by more than 20 million people worldwide before its withdrawal.