In emotional testimony, the oldest daughter of Carol Ernst said the happiest she’d ever seen her mother was when she was with Robert Ernst.
His sudden death in 2001 shattered her mother, Shawna Sherrill said Wednesday. The couple had been almost inseparable since they had met four years earlier and had been married less than a year.
“The night Bob died we lost our mom, too,” Sherrill said, sobbing. Her testimony brought a human face to a case that has included more than two weeks of testimony that was often full of medical terminology, government regulations and marketing strategy.
As she spoke, two large photos of Robert and Carol Ernst were projected onto a screen in front of jurors.
Carol Ernst’s lawsuit against Merck & Co., Inc., the maker of the withdrawn painkiller Vioxx, is the first of almost 4,300 Vioxx-related lawsuits to go to trial.
Sherrill described Robert Ernst, who died at 59, as a man who was in love with life. He ran marathons, competed in triathlons and worked out daily.
“He didn’t have to take Vioxx,” she said. “He didn’t have to take Vioxx, but he did. If he had known,” she sobbed, “he wouldn’t have.”
Sherrill said her mother was a dedicated single mom who rarely took time for herself for 16 years when Sherrill’s younger sister came up with a plan to introduce a man who taught classes at a local fitness center.
“I had to check him out first,” Sherrill said. She and her siblings met Ernst, liked what they saw and decided it would be a good thing for their selfless mom to meet such a good man.
When the two met, they fell in love almost instantly, she said.
“They were both crazy 16-year-olds in love,” Sherrill said. “It was almost like I was the parent and they were the teenagers,” she said.
Since his death, Sherrill said, ” … every day is hard.”
Merck has said the company isn’t responsible for Ernst’s death because he died of a heart arrhythmia and took Vioxx for only eight months.
The company pulled the drug from the market in September after a long-term study showed that patients who took it for more than 18 months had an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
In later testimony Wednesday, economist Ken McCoin estimated that Carol Ernst’s monetary loss from her husband’s death at between $212,486 and $327,247.
At the time he died, Ernst was an assistant produce manager at a Wal-Mart store, but he had earned much more money in the past as a restaurant manager, McCoin said.
Jurors also watched parts of a recorded deposition by Dr. Brent Wallace, who prescribed Vioxx to help Ernst with pain in his hands.
Wallace said he relied on drug-company representatives to keep him informed about possible side effects of their products.
Attorney Mark Lanier, who represents Carol Ernst, said she will probably testify today to end the plaintiff’s part of the trial. Merck attorneys will then start presenting their witnesses.