LOS ANGELES – A California jury on Wednesday found pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. (MRK) not liable for causing an elderly man's heart ailments after he took the drug maker's once-popular painkiller Vioxx.
After deliberating several hours in California's first trial over Vioxx, the 12-person jury determined that Merck was not negligent, did not conceal information and that the drug did not cause Stewart Grossberg's health problems.
Grossberg, 71, had sought compensatory and punitive damages, as well $214,000 for medical bills.
The drug maker faces more than 16,000 lawsuits involving Vioxx, which was pulled from the market in 2004 after a study found that it increased the risk of heart attacks. Merck has now won five Vioxx cases, including one last month in New Jersey, and has lost three. Another trial began this week in federal court in New Orleans.
Grossberg, who began taking Vioxx in 1999 to manage joint pain in his knees, hands and elsewhere caused by osteoarthritis, blamed his 2001 heart attack on Vioxx in his lawsuit against Merck.
He sought damages on grounds that the company was negligent and failed to warn users of the drug's dangers.
Merck, headquartered in Whitehouse Station, N.J., argued that Vioxx had no role in Grossberg's heart problems.
"Merck is pleased with the jury verdict," Kenneth C. Frazier, the company's general counsel, said in a statement. "Today's outcome demonstrates, again, why we will defend these cases on a case-by-case basis."
Attorneys summoned about 20 witnesses during the four week trial. Many of those were medical experts who provided complicated testimony about pharmacology and medical statistics.
Grossberg testified last month that he used Vioxx for a number of years but took the painkiller "as needed" and not daily.
He said he took the painkiller during a pain flare-up and suffered a heart attack a few weeks later, which caused him to miss time from his job as a construction site supervisor.
Doctors placed a stent in one of his arteries and he was eventually released from the hospital and put on medication to reduce his lipid levels.
Grossberg resumed taking Vioxx two years later, but in late August 2004 decided to stop after hearing about problems with the painkiller. Three months later, he experienced chest pains and had a second stent placement.
Grossberg's right coronary artery had a 95 percent high-grade lesion, according to his doctors. Plaque buildup also was present in other blood vessels — areas that had been normal in 2001.
Wednesday's decision comes three weeks after a New Jersey jury decided that Vioxx did not cause 68-year-old Elaine Doherty's heart attack. That case was the first in which jurors considered whether Merck failed to warn patients about the drug's cardiac risks.
More than 2,000 Vioxx lawsuits filed in California have been consolidated in Los Angeles by Superior Court Judge Victoria G. Chaney.