N.J. Jury Clears Drugmaker Merck In Vioxx Heart Attack Case

November 3, 2005

Jurors in New Jersey today said Merck & Co. should not be blamed for the death of a 60-year old Idaho postal worker who suffered a heart attack after taking the company’s Vioxx painkiller.

The six men and six women decided that Merck had issued sufficient warnings about the risks of Vioxx and did not engage in “unconscionable commercial practices” in marketing Vioxx.

Merck lost an earlier trial in Texas and was told to pay $253 million to the widow of a Vioxx user. Merck has said it would appeal that verdict.

Merck has pulled Vioxx from the market but since the Texas verdict in August, Merck has been charged in thousands of lawsuits across the country. The company has vowed to contest each one, as it did in New Jersey.

The plaintiff in the New Jersey case was Frederick Humeston, a U.S. Postal Service employee from Boise, Idaho, who alleged that he suffered a heart attack on Sept. 18, 2001, at the age of 56, as a result of intermittent use of Vioxx over a two-month period.

In a statement, Merck said it was pleased that the New Jersey court rejected the charges and credited its scientific testimony.

“We presented a case that was solidly based on scientific evidence,” said Jim Fitzpatrick of Hughes Hubbard & Reed, a member of Merck’s defense team. “Frederick Humeston would have suffered a heart attack when he did, whether he was taking Vioxx or not.

“In addition, Merck presented evidence that it carefully studied Vioxx before and after FDA approval, and consistently made the results of those studies available to the FDA and the medical community,” Fitzpatrick said.

“Merck is satisfied with the jury verdict,” said Kenneth C. Frazier, senior vice president and general counsel of Merck. “There will be other VIOXX trials and we will vigorously defend them one by one over the coming years. Merck acted responsibly, from performing extensive clinical trials comparing Vioxx to NSAIDs or placebo in almost 10,000 patients prior to approval to monitoring the medicine while it was on the market, to voluntarily withdrawing the medicine when we did.”

Following the verdict, Merck’s shares rose $1.28 to $29.69 at 12:44 p.m. on the New York Stock Exchange.

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