NEW ORLEANS- A federal jury handed Merck & Co. a major victory when it cleared the drug maker of any responsibility in the death of a 53-year-old Florida man who had a heart attack after taking its once popular painkiller Vioxx for less than a month.

This was the second court victory for Merck, and the first in a federal court. The company had argued in this case that plaintiff lawyers never proved any link between Vioxx and the heart attack Richard “Dickey” Irvin suffered in 2001. Merck’s lawyers contended Irvin’s age, gender and diet all put him at risk for heart attacks.

It was also the second time jurors heard the case brought by Irvin’s family. In Houston, where the case was heard in November and December because of damage from Hurricane Katrina, jurors were unable to reach a verdict. Merck won a state case in New Jersey last year, while it lost one in Texas.

Irvin’s widow, Evelyn Irvin Plunkett; the youngest of their three daughters, Ashley Irvin; and their only son, Richard Irvin III, all testified that Irvin’s health had been excellent up to his heart attack.



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