Vioxx Is Cleared in Heart Attack
Merck & Co. isn’t liable for the heart attack of a Kentucky man who took its Vioxx drug, a U.S. jury decided Tuesday in the first trial involving the use of the painkiller after the company issued a stronger warning label.
Robert Garry Smith, 56, a manager at a chemical plant, began taking Vioxx in 2002, after the medication’s label was changed to reflect a study showing that the drug raised the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Smith suffered a heart attack in February 2003, after using Vioxx for five months.
“The jury’s decision confirms that Merck acted responsibly and that Vioxx was not the cause of Mr. Smith’s heart attack,” company lawyer Phil Beck said after the verdict.
The victory may help Merck deflect future lawsuits as a two- year deadline for filing product-liability claims expires in most states. Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market in September 2004, when another study showed it doubled heart attack risk after 18 months of use.
The Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based pharmaceutical giant still faces more than 18,000 lawsuits over the drug and has vowed to contest each one, setting aside almost $1 billion to fight them. Vioxx generated about $2.5 billion annually in the five years it was on the market.
The nine previous suits that were tried were filed by people who took the pill before the label was changed. The company won five and lost four, with one victory overturned last month.