Merck Deceptive on Vioxx, Plaintiff Says
Merck & Co. should have told doctors and consumers “the good, the bad and the ugly” about Vioxx long before pulling it from the market last year, a plaintiff’s attorney said Wednesday in closing arguments in the nation’s first civil trial involving the once-popular painkiller.
Mark Lanier, who represents the widow of a Texas man who died in 2001, accused the Whitehorse Station, N.J., company of practicing denial and deception for the last decade, minimizing safety concerns about Vioxx to reap billions in profit.
“We have a right to know,” Lanier said of any potentially lethal side effects. “They ought to tell us the good, the bad and the ugly.”
Merck lawyer Gerry Lowry urged jurors to consider what would happen to the 100-year-old company if it knowingly created deadly drugs. “Would that be good business? Would that make sense?” she asked.
The jury could start deliberating today in the first case to go to trial among more than 4,200 state and federal lawsuits.
The trial is seen as a test of what’s ahead for the drug maker. Analysts speculate that Merck’s liability could reach $18 billion.
In the Texas case, Lanier hinted to jurors Wednesday that damages for mental anguish and loss of companionship for the plaintiff, Carol Ernst, could reach more than $229 million.
Ernst alleges that Vioxx triggered the death of her husband, Robert Ernst, 59, in his sleep. He took the drug for eight months to ease pain in his hands.
Merck has relied heavily on Robert Ernst’s autopsy report, which attributes his death to an arrhythmia secondary to clogged arteries. The company says no studies link Vioxx to arrhythmia, so the drug couldn’t have caused his death.