Plaintiff in Vioxx Case Rests after Widow Testifies

posted on:
December 6, 2005


After calling a woman suing Merck & Co. to testify about the 2001 fatal heart attack of her husband, plaintiff attorneys in the first federal Vioxx trial rested their case.

The woman, Evelyn Irvin Plunkett, told jurors her husband took Vioxx to relieve back pain, but was a healthy, active man who displayed no signs of heart disease before his death.

Jurors also watched the video testimony of Edward Scolnick, a former top Merck scientist who wrote emails in 2000 saying in regard to Vioxx study results that the “CV events are clearly there” and that the problems were “mechanism-based as we feared” they were. Dr. Scolnick said his actions were always guided by his concern about patient safety.

In this case, being heard by Judge Eldon E. Fallon of U.S. District Court in New Orleans, but being tried in Houston post-hurricane, attorneys for the plaintiff argued that Merck knew Vioxx could cause heart attacks and strokes years before the Whitehouse Station, N.J., drug maker withdrew the drug last year, and failed to warn of the risks.

Merck withdrew the drug after a study linked Vioxx to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in patients taking it for 18 months or longer.

Merck in the case has argued it acted in full compliance with regulatory guidelines, and said it rigorously tested Vioxx before and while it was on the market.

Merck lost the first Vioxx liability trial a few months ago when a Texas jury in a state case awarded $253.4 million to a widow of a man who died while taking Vioxx. The award will likely be reduced to $26 million under state damage caps. The drug company last month scored a victory in a case heard in Atlantic City, N.J. Analysts have estimated Merck’s potential liability for Vioxx at as much as $50 billion.

In the current case, Mr. Irvin took the drug intermittently for less than a month. Experts called by the plaintiff said Vioxx posed cardiovascular risks in the short term, which Merck denied. All four of Mr. Irvin’s grown children, his boss and a friend have testified in the trial.

Merck opened its defense at the end of the day by calling rheumatologist and internal-medicine physician David Silver, an associate professor at UCLA, who told jurors of the dangers of older painkillers and explained the mechanism of Vioxx.

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