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Jury Favors Merck in Vioxx Lawsuit


The business news starts with a verdict supporting Vioxx.

A jury in New Jersey ruled in favor of the drugmaker Merck, which makes Vioxx. The case tested whether the company properly warned consumers about the risks of that painkiller. An Idaho man had claimed his intermittent use of Vioxx caused his heart attack four years ago. NPR's Snigdha Prakash is at the courthouse in Atlantic City.

And, Snigdha, why did the jury reject this man's claim that Vioxx was responsible for his trouble?


Well, Steve, we don't know exactly what the jury was thinking. We do know that the jury found that Merck did provide adequate warning to physicians that there was an association between Vioxx and a greater risk of cardiovascular events. We know that the jury found that Merck didn't commit consumer fraud in its marketing to physicians, it didn't mislead them, it didn't suppress or conceal information about Vioxx's risk.

INSKEEP: Now we should mention that there have now been two trials involving Vioxx. One was a verdict which went against the drugmaker and now we have one that effectively goes for the drugmaker. What does this mean now for Merck?

PRAKASH: Well, it's hard to say. It's obviously a huge boost for Merck, psychologically, if nothing else; it makes them less of a target. Their stock prices is up slightly. They face some 6,400 cases around the country and maybe much more than that. And at the very least this tells the plaintiff that Merck is not an easy target, it's that they'll have to fight to prove their cases to jury.

INSKEEP: Is this just a matter of different facts, a different jury in a different state or did Merck seem to learn something in defending itself for a second time?

PRAKASH: Well, I would say the answer to that is both. In this second case, as you mentioned, Mike Humeston, the postal worker from Idaho, had been taking Vioxx only intermittently for about two months. That was different from the case in Texas, where there was a much longer period of use. And it is true that there isn't the kind of definitive scientific evidence that links Vioxx to heart attacks when Vioxx is taken for a short period of time. The jury in New Jersey was more favorably disposed--the juries in New Jersey--to Merck. Merck, you know, is based here in New Jersey. Texas is known to be a pro-plaintiff state and certainly Merck learned a few lessons. They had a different trial team and we were talking to one juror a little while ago and she said she likes the lead lawyer for Merck, a woman who made eye contact who seemed to be talking to jurors, which was very different from the lead lawyer in Texas for Merck.

INSKEEP: NPR's Snigdha Prakash in Atlantic City. Thanks very much.

PRAKASH: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Snigdha Prakash
Pieces by National Desk reporter Snigdha Prakash can be heard on NPR's All Things Considered and Morning Edition. The majority of Snigdha's past reports have focused on topics related to entrepreneurship, business, banking and the economy.
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