U.S. News

New Jersey Jury Splits on Two Merck Vioxx Cases


A New Jersey jury found on Friday that Merckfailed to provide adequate warnings about health risks tied to its withdrawn arthritis drug Vioxx in one case, but decided that it gave adequate warning in another in two suits tried simultaneously.

In both cases, the jury found that Merck committed consumer fraud by making misrepresentations concerning the drug's heart risks and that it intentionally suppressed or concealed material information from physicians prior to the plaintiffs' heart attacks.

The Merck defeat in the case of Frederick Humeston was a retrial of a suit that the drugmaker had won only to have the judge throw out the verdict after ruling that new evidence had come to light.

The Humeston case will now proceed to a second phase in which the jury will be asked to determine whether Vioxx was a primary cause of the Idaho postal worker's 2001 heart attack and decide compensatory damages.

The other lawsuit was brought by the estate of Brian Hermans, who suffered a fatal heart attack in September of 2002 after using Vioxx for 21 months.

Merck is facing more than 27,000 lawsuits from people who claim to have been harmed by the once $2.5 billion a year drug that was pulled from the market in September of 2004 after a study showed it doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke in patients taking it for at least 18 months.

The New Jersey based drugmaker has vowed to fight each lawsuit on a case-by-case basis rather than enter into any broad settlement agreement.

Merck had won nine of 13 Vioxx trials that went to a jury verdict, including the original Humeston win that has now been reversed.

Investors largely shrugged off the trial results with shares virtually unchanged in late afternoon trading. Merck shares closed up 20 cents at $44.19 on the New York Stock Exchange.

"Our view is that we're not going to put too much import into any individual case," Deutsche Bank analyst Barbara Ryan said. "I think it's going to be a marathon that's going to play out over a very long period of time."