A New Jersey jury gave drug maker Merck a huge victory today.
It decided against a man who claimed the drug Vioxx caused him to have a heart attack. It’s the second lawsuit to go to a jury since Merck pulled Vioxx from store shelves.
Essentially, the case came down to believing a big drug company that said it warned doctors Vioxx might have some problems or an Idaho man who had serious health problems and took several other drugs at the same time. Merck pulled Vioxx from stores because it appeared the drug caused a higher possibility of heart attacks and strokes.
But in court, a Merck attorney claimed the science said otherwise.
“The short-term use of Vioxx does not increase the risk of heart attacks,” said Jim Fitzpatrick, Merck’s attorney.
A New Jersey jury ruled against an Idaho man anyway, even though he suffered a heart attack after using Vioxx for just two months.
Frederick “Mike” Humeston sued Merck for his 2001 heart attack.
“The question that remains today through the American consumer is what is Merck doing to take care of those people that they themselves know for a certainty they harmed,” he said.
Noted Alabama lawyer Jere Beasley is taking the next shot at Merck in a Texas courtroom. He says the only reason Merck won was because it attacked Mr. Humeston.
“They showed he had some of the same problems now that he had before he took Vioxx,” Beasley said.
Beasley says Merck knew years in advance Vioxx could cause cardiovascular problems but covered it up. The reason? Money.
“They lied to the FDA, they lied to the medical community, and they lied to the public. They kept selling it because they were making two and a half billion dollars a year,” he said.
The company disputes that claim.
As of right now, plaintiffs have filed about 7000 cases against the drug maker, many of them involving deaths. But Beasley says even if the company loses several, it won’t settle the rest.
“They are gonna keep trying them because they’ve set aside 685 million dollars to defend cases, not pay victims,” he said.
Beasley blames the FDA in part for the Vioxx scandal. He says the agency was slack in carrying out its duties, but he says that happened because it was understaffed and underfunded. He says more blame lies with drug companies who give money to Congress and then press for less oversight of new drugs.
Merck lost its first Vioxx lawsuit in Texas, where the widow of a Vioxx user won a quarter of a billion dollar verdict. Merck is appealing that verdict.