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Merck wins second court victory over Vioxx

New Orleans jury decides that painkiller was not responsible for heart attack of Florida man

Merck notched up a crucial victory in a US federal court, after a jury in New Orleans cleared the company of responsibility for the death of a man who took its painkiller Vioxx, since withdrawn.

The case was brought by the widow of Richard Irvin, who died of a heart attack in 2001 after taking Vioxx for less than a month.

In the two-week retrial of a case first heard in Houston in December, the jury of five men and three women took just over three hours to rule in favour of Merck.

The verdict will bolster Merck's chances of reducing potentially billions of dollars in liability for the drug, which was withdrawn after the company revealed it increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes after 18 months' continuous use.

ìThe evidence showed overwhelmingly that, for anything less than a very long use of Vioxx, there's not even the possibility of the drug causing increased heart-attack risk,î said Merck defence attorney Phil Beck. ìMr Irvin only took Vioxx for less than a month. He suffered multiple long-standing risk factors for a heart attack including partially clogged arteries. Mr Irvin would have suffered a heart attack when he did, whether he was taking Vioxx or not.î

Plaintiffs' attorney and lead counsel on the case, Andy Birchfield said he was ìdetermined to go forward on behalf of other victims of Vioxxî.

During the trial, the plaintiff suffered a setback when a pre-trial ruling by District Court Judge Eldon Fallon prevented an expert pathologist from testifying that Vioxx caused the blood clot that led to Irvin's heart attack.

Beck had argued that Irvin had a number of other cardiovascular risk factors, including his age, weight and high blood pressure.

After Hurricane Katrina struck last year, the case had been moved to Houston before Judge Fallon brought it back to New Orleans.

The victory is good news for Merck and means that it has now won more cases than it has lost.

The stage has now been set for two more Vioxx cases, which begin next month. The cases have been consolidated into one trial in New Jersey Superior Court, and both contain heart-attack victims. One of the cases will be fought by Mark Lanier, the Texas attorney who won the very first Vioxx trial last summer.

30th September 2008

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