Vioxx lawsuits multiply; Gilmartin to testify at trial

The number of lawsuits filed against Merck in connection with Vioxx has risen to 9,650, Merck said Tuesday. The drug maker announced it has set aside an additional $295 million for legal defense costs related to the withdrawn COX-2 drug, bringing the total amount Merck has earmarked for legal costs to $970 million. Merck said it spent $285 million on defense costs during 2005, leaving it with $685 million, which it believes will last through 2007. Meanwhile, former Merck CEO Raymond Gilmartin has agreed to a plaintiff attorney’s request that he testify at a Vioxx trial slated to begin in Atlantic City in late February. Plaintiff lawyer Mark Lanier said he requested Gilmartin’s presence and intends to call him because “when you have to look a jury in the eye, it is harder to fudge,” he told the Associated Press. Lanier said he intends to ask Gilmartin questions that weren’t asked in previous videotaped depositions but wouldn’t specify what they were. Lanier won the first Vioxx trial last summer. A Merck official told the AP that the company believes Gilmartin will be a strong witness, noting his performance in front of a Senate committee hearing in late 2004, when he answered questions about the withdrawal of Vioxx. Also on Tuesday, a Vioxx lawsuit in New Jersey was thrown out by a state judge who said a Texas man failed to prove the drug caused his stomach pain and internal bleeding. Superior Court judge Carol Higbee in Atlantic City granted a motion for summary judgment to Merck. Higbee said the plaintiff, Edgar Lee Boyd, was unable to show he was hurt by Vioxx and an alleged Merck failure to warn of side effects. Ted Meyer, spokesperson for Merck’s legal team, told the verdict shows that doctors understood how to prescribe Vioxx and that patients benefited from taking the drug. “We do believe that any case regarding Vioxx and its gastrointestinal effects should come out the same way,” Meyer said.