Merck not responsible in Illinois Vioxx case

An Illinois jury Tuesday ruled Merck’s withdrawn painkiller Vioxx was not responsible for causing a 52-year-old woman’s fatal heart attack and awarded no damages in the case. Plaintiff Frank Schwaller sued Merck after his wife Patricia, took Vioxx for 20 months for shoulder pain before dying from a heart attack in August 2003. Schwaller’s lawyers alleged that Vioxx was defectively designed, inadequately tested, dangerous to human health, and lacked proper warnings, which subjected users to risks of heart attack, stroke and other illnesses. Merck argued Mrs. Schwaller’s preexisting risk factors – a family history of heart disease, morbid obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and sedentary lifestyle – were responsible for her sudden cardiac death. “The combination of these risk factors put her at increased risk for sudden cardiac death, having nothing to do with Vioxx,” said Dan Ball of the St. Louis firm Bryan Cave LLP, Merck's lead attorney in the case. In trials that have reached a jury verdict, Merck, so far, has won 10 and lost five.