Verdict Reached in Two Vioxx Cases

Jurors in a New Jersey courtroom decided today that Merck misled medical professionals and consumers about the risks associated with Vioxx, the company’s discredited pain medication, and in one of the cases did not provide adequate warnings about the potentially severe side effects.

In the case of Messerschmidt v. Merck, the jury ruled that Merck’s misleading marketing materials violated the state’s consumer-fraud laws although they also ruled that Merck had provided sufficient warnings before doctors had prescribed Vioxx to Brian Hermans. Hermans died of a heart attack at age 44 after taking Vioxx.

In the second case, Humeston v. Merck, jurors found that Merck not only violated consumer-fraud laws, but also failed to provide adequate warnings prior to the plaintiff’s Vioxx regimen. Frederick Humeston survived his heart attack, but lost his first trial against Merck. However, that previous verdict was tossed out, and a retrial was ordered. The next phase of Humeston’s trial will determine whether or not the drug led to his heart attack.

Humeston’s heart attack occurred in September of 2001 before the updated Vioxx product warnings appeared on the label. Therefore, the company may be liable for punitive and compensatory damages in that case. However, Hermans suffered his heart attack a year later, after the FDA’s mandated label change had taken place and therefore is not eligible for punitive or compensatory damages.

Meanwhile, Merck’s Vioxx replacement, known as Arcoxia, is slated to be reviewed by the FDA’s Arthritis Drugs advisory committee in an April meeting. Arcoxia is also part of the class of drugs known as cox-2 inhibitors, and it would be the first drug of the class to be approved in the U.S. since Vioxx and Pfizer’s Bextra were pulled from the market due to safety concerns.

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