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John Ghezzi
John Ghezzi
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Merck Wins First Vioxx Trial in MIdwest

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Merck has won the first Vioxx trial conducted in the Midwest. Yesterday, in Madison County, Illinois–a county nationally known for juries that tend to award generous plaintiff’s verdicts–a jury rendered a defense verdict in a claim brought by the estate of Patty Schwaller.

In siding with Merck, the jury concluded that Vioxx was not a “proximate cause” in Ms. Schwaller’s death. She had taken the drug for about 20 months before suddenly collapsing and dying in her home. Merck has now won 10 out of the 15 cases that have gone to trial over Vioxx. Merck is sticking to its plan to try each case individually, but faces over 27,000 individual lawsuits and 265 potential class actions over its once popular painkiller.

In the case of Ms. Schwaller, Merck argued that the proximate cause of her heart attack was her weight–250 to 300 pounds on a 5′ 2″ frame–diabetes, high blood pressure and a sedentary lifestyle. Jurors concluded Tuesday that while Merck knew or should have known Vioxx may have posed dangers to patients like Patty Schwaller, Vioxx labels in 1999 and 2002 — well before Patty Schwaller’s death — adequately urged caution among Vioxx users with cardiovascular risks including hypertension. One juror told reporters that pinpointing what caused Patty Schwaller’s death was hampered because her body was cremated without an autopsy. She and other jurors said plaintiff’s counsel spent too much time generally attacking Merck’s conduct before and after Vioxx’s release and not enough on Patty Schwaller specifically.

This verdict comes on the heels of a plaintiff’s victory in a Vioxx retrial on March 12 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Jurors there found that Vioxx contributed to the death of retired 61 year old postal worker Frederick Humeston and ordered Merck to pay compensation in the amount of 47.5M dollars.