Merck Wins New Jersey Vioxx Case

Merck & Co., Inc. today said it was pleased that a New Jersey found in its favor, rejecting the claims of a patient who blamed her heart attack on nearly three years of Vioxx use.

The jury found that Merck acted responsibly in informing the medical community about the benefits and risks of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved medicine.

“The company acted responsibly, the science was on our side, and the jury agreed,” said Jim Fitzpatrick of Hughes Hubbard & Reed, a member of Merck’s defense team in Doherty v. Merck. “Mrs. Doherty would have suffered a heart attack whether she was taking Vioxx or not. Before ever hearing of Vioxx, Mrs. Doherty had multiple risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.”

Today’s verdict marks the third time in four cases that a New Jersey jury found in Merck’s favor on a plaintiff’s product liability claim.

The jury also found in Merck’s favor on the plaintiff’s consumer statute claim, specifically finding that Merck did not mislead consumers in its marketing efforts.

“Merck is pleased with the jury verdict,” said Kenneth C. Frazier, senior vice president and general counsel of Merck. “Today’s outcome reinforces our commitment to defend these cases on a case-by-case basis.”

Elaine Doherty, a homemaker from Lawrenceville, N.J., alleged that she took Vioxx 25 mg daily from June 28, 2001, until she suffered a heart attack on Jan. 19, 2004, at age 65. She continued to take the medicine until Merck withdrew it from the market in September 2004.

Merck was represented by Diane Sullivan of Dechert LLP, in Princeton, N.J., and Paul Strain of Venable LLP, in Baltimore, Md. Sullivan was the lead counsel in the first New Jersey case, in which the jury found that the Company acted responsibly in providing information to the medical community.

This is the seventh case that has gone to trial. In April, a New Jersey jury rendered a split verdict in a case involving two plaintiffs. The jurors rejected a claim by Thomas Cona that Vioxx contributed to his heart attack, and found in favor of John McDarby. Merck plans to appeal the portions of the verdict that it lost. In February, Merck won the first federal case when jurors in Plunkett v. Merck rejected claims that Vioxx caused the heart attack of a Florida man. In November, jurors in New Jersey ruled in favor of Merck, in Humeston v. Merck, the first New Jersey case. Finally, Merck intends to appeal last August’s plaintiff verdict in a Texas state court in Ernst v. Merck, as well as April’s plaintiff verdict in a Texas state court in Garza v. Merck.

An eighth case is currently under way in Los Angeles.

Source: Merck