Humeston Case Ends with Defense Verdict for Merck
Merck & Co. got what it wanted in its first New Jersey Vioxx trial: a defense verdict.
On November 3, 2005, a New Jersey state court jury concluded that the use of Vioxx did not play any role in causing the heart attack of Frederick "Mike" Humeston, the 60-year-old plaintiff in the nation's second Vioxx case to go to trial. Significantly, Mr. Humeston said he took the painkiller Vioxx for only two months and not a regular, daily basis.
In this Humeston Vioxx case the jury also found that Merck had not misrepresented the safety of Vioxx, and that Merck did not commit any consumer fraud in how the drug company promoted Vioxx to doctors and patients.
The Humeston jury had to consider the competing evidence which it heard during the seven weeks of testimony. Somewhat remarkably, the Humeston jury deliberated for just a bit more than one full day before issuing its defense verdict in favor of Merck.
Essentially, as regards Merck's conduct concerning Vioxx, the Humeston verdict means one of two things. The first possible conclusion is the jury determined that Merck did not know Vioxx posed cardiovascular risks back in 2001, when Mr. Humeston was prescribed Vioxx. The second possible conclusion is the jury believed that, even though Merck knew about those cardiovascular risks in 2001, the drug company had adequately warned doctors about the risks associated with Vioxx.
On the medical aspect, the Humeston jury determined that Vioxx was not a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's heart attack in this case. Consistently during the Humeston trial, Merck made two primary arguments when defending on the medical causation issue. The first defense argument asserted by Merck was that low-dose, short-term use of Vioxx has not been found to cause heart attacks. In addition, Merck's defense team told the jury that Mr. Humeston's pre-existing medical conditions -- elevated blood pressure, being overweight, and work-related stress -- caused his heart attack, not the limited Vioxx use.
Following the Humeston verdict, Jim Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for Merck, was quoted by The Wall Street Journal ("WSJ") as follows:
- "We're very pleased with the jury's verdict."
- "I think the science is very clear that there is no short-term risk."
- "This confirms our strategy" to fight each case individually based on the science.
When the dust settles, it will be interesting to see whether Merck reaches out to plaintiffs' lawyers in an attempt to settle those Vioxx cases which involve eighteen months or more of Vioxx use followed by a heart attack or ischemic stroke.
(Posted by: Tom Lamb)