W. Va. Vioxx Trial Set for October

A West Virginia civil trial in a lawsuit that blames the death of a Mingo County man on Merck & Co.’s prescription pain medicine Vioxx is scheduled for October.

The lawsuit is similar to thousands of others filed across the country that claim Vioxx caused heart attacks and early deaths before Merck stopped selling the drug in 2004.

If the West Virginia lawsuit brought by Ronda Smith goes to trial, the Houston lawyer who filed it says legal and financial analysts will be watching. The lawsuit alleges that taking Vioxx caused the death of Smith’s husband, Thomas “Mike” Smith, three years ago.

“This is the accountability trial,” said Smith’s lawyer Mark Lanier.

Investors and lawyers have been watching Vioxx lawsuits with interest since 2005, when a jury in Texas awarded $253.5 million in damages to one of Lanier’s clients. Merck has since appealed the verdict, which included $229 million in punitive damages.

A spokesman for Merck’s legal team says the company was not at fault. “We believe the evidence will show that Merck acted responsibly and that Vioxx was not a cause of Mr. Smith’s unfortunate and tragic death,” Kent Jarrell said.

Jarrell said about 4,600 other lawsuits were dismissed before trial and that juries have favored the company.

“Juries have found in favor of the company 10 times and in favor of plaintiffs five times,” he said. Two other trials ended with hung juries.

The West Virginia lawsuit is set for trial Oct. 1 in Mingo County Circuit Court.