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Merck Wins Kentucky Vioxx Case

GENERIC Merck Vioxx trial gavel
AP / ABC News
A federal jury ruled in favor of Merck & Co. Inc. on Tuesday in a lawsuit over the painkiller Vioxx, finding there was not enough evidence to link the drug to a Kentucky man's heart attack.

The jury of six women and two men deliberated for only about three hours before reaching a verdict. The jurors left the courthouse without commenting on their decision.

Robert Garry Smith, 56, claimed in U.S. District Court that the drug contributed to a heart attack he had 3½ years ago. He said he had taken Vioxx for knee pain for about 4½ months but didn't realize at the time of the heart attack that Vioxx may have been a cause for concern.

But the drugmaker's defense lawyer argued there was no medical testimony indicating Vioxx had anything to do with the heart attack that Smith suffered in 2003. "That doesn't exist in this case," attorney Phil Beck said in closing arguments Tuesday morning.

Vioxx went on the market in 1999; Merck pulled it two years ago, after a study found a greater risk of heart attack in those who had taken the drug continually for at least 18 months than in those who had taken placebos.

Smith's attorneys depicted a company that hid its knowledge of the health risks associated with Vioxx in the name of profit and stock value. But Beck countered that Smith had other health factors, including high blood pressure and cholesterol, that put him at risk of a heart attack before he began taking the drug. Beck said evidence pointed to strenuous activity — namely, Smith's shoveling snow — as the heart attack trigger.

Including the verdict Tuesday, the drugmaker so far has amassed a 5-and-4 record in state and federal courts in Vioxx-related cases. A sixth case Merck won was overturned by a judge and is set to be retried. At least 14,200 cases are pending nationwide.

Smith's lawyer, John Boundas, acknowledged Smith had other risk factors for a heart attack, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. But he said those factors shouldn't negate the risks of taking Vioxx.

Beck said Smith's medical records immediately following the heart attack do not show Smith told doctors he was taking Vioxx.

Beck said Smith's memory might be hazy on that point, and added, "Often our imperfect memories are influenced, even unconsciously, by our own self interest."

Smith had sought unspecified damages for past and future mental anguish, medical bills and loss of earnings.

Benjamin Zipursky, a law professor at Fordham University School of Law who has tracked Vioxx litigation, said he doesn't see Merck moving toward settling the many pending cases.

"They may one day, but I have no reason to believe it will happen anytime soon," he said in an interview before closing arguments.