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Merck lied to public on Vioxx: lawyer tells jurors



19th August, 2005: Merck has used deceptive marketing to doctors and consumers and had lied to the public about Vioxx’s dangers, argued lawyer arguing the case of a man who died after taking the medicine.

In his closing argument, the lawyer told a Texas jury the pain killer and arthritis drug Vioxx had caused Robert C. Ernst’ s death at age 59 in May 2001 and pleaded the drug firm should be punished with a very large damage award. He criticized Merck's marketing of Vioxx, saying that the company had trained its salespeople to avoid questions about Vioxx's potential heart risks. Pointing to a training game for salespeople that Merck called Dodgeball, he said that Merck wanted jurors to believe that "Dodge means tell the truth." Ernst’s lawyer also referred to documents and e-mail from scientists at Merck that showed them discussing Vioxx's potential heart risks as early as 1997, more than two years before the company began selling the drug. 

But lawyers for Merck implored the jury not to hold Merck responsible for Mr. Ernst's death, saying he had never proved that Vioxx caused Mr. Ernst to die in his bed on May 6, 2001. A coroner found Mr. Ernst's cause of death to be an arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, and no clinical trials have ever linked Vioxx to arrhythmias, said, a lawyer for Merck.

Another Merck lawyer, said that the company had repeatedly tested Vioxx for heart risks and shared its data with doctors and the Food and Drug Administration. When a clinical trial in 2004 showed that Vioxx was riskier than a placebo, or sugar pill, Merck acted prudently and withdrew the drug from the market, he pointed out said.

The closing arguments came after both sides presented almost five weeks of testimony about Vioxx, a drug that Merck sold from 1999 to 2004 and that was taken by an estimated 20 million people. Mr. Ernst's family is suing Merck in state district court in Brazoria County, Tex., contending that Vioxx caused his death.
More than 4,000 other people have also sued Merck, charging that Vioxx caused them to suffer heart attacks and strokes. Analysts say that from 20,000 to 100,000 people or their families may eventually sue the company, and estimates of Merck's Vioxx-related liabilities have ranged from $4 billion to as much as $30 billion. Nearly 200 lawyers, reporters and spectators packed in the courtroom in Angleton, a town of 18,000 about 40 miles south of downtown Houston.

Under Texas law only 10 of the 12 jurors must agree on the questions to reach a verdict. If the jury answers yes to any of the first three questions, it may award compensatory damages for Ms. Ernst.


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