Merck Wins Vioxx Case

The drugmaker has won five verdicts and lost three.
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Updated from 10:10 a.m. EDT

Merck

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has won another Vioxx trial, giving the company five wins against three losses in the cases in which a verdict has been reached.

In the latest decision, a California jury on Wednesday rejected a claim by a Northridge, Calif., man that his 2001 heart attack was caused by the arthritis drug. The plaintiff, Stewart Grossberg, took the drug periodically for about two years before suffering a heart attack at age 66, Merck said.

The company said Grossberg continued to take Vioxx periodically until about a month before Merck removed it from the market in September 2004.

Merck says it has been named as a defendant in about 14,200 personal-injury lawsuits in the U.S., as well as some 190 purported class actions. Lawsuits also have been filed in other countries.

Kenneth Frazier, senior vice president and general counsel of Merck, said in a prepared statement after the verdict was announced that the outcome "demonstrates, again, why we will defend these cases on a case-by-case basis."

Merck's attorneys said Grossberg was at a high risk for a heart attack because he had high cholesterol levels, a family history of heart disease and atherosclerosis, a thickening and hardening of arteries.

"The verdict is consistent with what we have always said. Merck acted appropriately in providing information to the medical, scientific and regulatory communities," said Thomas Yoo, an attorney with Reed Smith, a Los Angeles law firm and member of the Merck defense team. "We firmly believed that Vioxx was not the cause of this heart attack because the data do not support that infrequent, sporadic use of Vioxx contributes to heart attacks."

Next on the Vioxx litigation menu is a case under way in federal court in New Orleans. A plaintiff is blaming Vioxx for his heart attack, but Merck says he "exhibited many of the classic risk factors" for a heart attack, including high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease and a family history of heart problems. Merck also is appealing the three jury verdicts that it has lost.

By midday, Merck's stock was up 35 cents, or 0.9%, to $41.38.