NEW ORLEANS – A Tennessee man's claim that the maker of the withdrawn painkiller Vioxx should be blamed for his 2003 heart attack was rejected Wednesday by a federal jury, the fourth victory for drug maker Merck & Co. (MRK) in five federal trials.
The seven-member jury answered "no" on a verdict questionnaire when asked if evidence showed that Merck failed to adequately warn Anthony Dedrick's doctors of any known risk posed by Vioxx, or that the lack of such a warning was a cause of Dedrick's heart attack.
Merck lawyers had attacked the credibility of Dedrick, 50, of Waynesboro, Tenn., who was seeking $200,000 from the company.
Merck had won three previous federal cases and lost one. In state courts, the company has won three and lost three. Jurors in another state case decided in Merck's favor, but the judge later ordered a retrial.
Merck said earlier this week that it faces about 27,200 personal injury lawsuits over Vioxx, representing about 45,900 plaintiff groups, plus 265 potential class-action lawsuits.
Another 14,000 plaintiffs have entered agreements with Merck suspending the time limit for lawsuits. Suits by more than 3,000 plaintiff groups have been dismissed, although about two-thirds of those may be refiled later.
So far, Merck has reserved nearly $1.6 billion for legal costs but has resisted setting aside money to pay jury awards or settlements with plaintiffs.
Merck shares fell 28 cents to close at $43.34 on the New York Stock Exchange. Its shares rose 8 cents to $43.42 in after-hours trading.
Dedrick's lawyer, Andy Birchfield, acknowledged in his closing statement that Dedrick had other risk factors for his heart attack, including tobacco use, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and cocaine use.
However, he said, Vioxx was also a risk factor and that — as has been argued in other cases — Merck failed to adequately warn doctors about the risk.
Birchfield anticipated, and sought to counter, arguments from Merck about Dedrick's past, acknowledging Dedrick had a criminal history and had used cocaine. That information was irrelevant, he told jurors.
In the closing argument for Merck, lawyer Phil Beck attacked Dedrick's credibility, noting five worthless-check convictions and allegations that Dedrick lied under oath at a disability hearing.
Beck questioned whether Dedrick was telling the truth when he said he continued taking Vioxx even after being prescribed a narcotic painkiller.