Merck lawyer: Facts and science don’t add up in plaintiff’s case
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Hammering away at a handful of key themes, a lawyer for Merck & Co. urged jurors Monday to absolve the Vioxx manufacturer of liability for a heart attack suffered by an Idaho postal worker, saying the company thoroughly tested the drug and that federal regulators concluded it wasn’t a risk with short-term use.In closing arguments in the product liability case, Merck attorney Diane Sullivan said Frederick “Mike” Humeston wasn’t taking the painkiller long enough to have been at risk and that the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based drug company cannot be held accountable for his heart attack.”The facts and the science just don’t support that,” said Sullivan.Humeston, 60, of Boise, Idaho, is one of about 7,000 former Vioxx users to sue the manufacturer, which pulled the one-time blockbuster arthritis drug off the market last year after research showed Vioxx doubled risk of heart attacks and strokes if taken for at least 18 months. Humeston had been taking it for about two months when he was stricken.His lawyer, Chris Seeger, was to give his summation to the jury Tuesday, after which jurors will begin deliberations. The closing arguments cap a seven-week trial focusing on the troubled painkiller and its alleged role in Humeston’s heart attack.Its outcome has high stakes for Merck, which lost the first product liability trial over Vioxx and could face tens of thousands more lawsuits.Speaking in a hushed courtroom packed with plaintiff’s lawyers, Wall Street analysts and reporters, Sullivan led off by showing jurors a slide presentation noting the conclusions of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which said earlier this year that Vioxx and other so-called Cox-2 inhibitors have no risks of heart attack and stroke in short-term use.”That is the most important fact in this case,” said Sullivan.Cox-2 drugs inhibit the Cox-2 enzyme, which promotes inflammation, but protect users against stomach bleeding and ulcers, unlike other anti-inflammatory drugs.Agreeing with Humeston’s lawyers that the best evidence in the case was Humeston himself, Sullivan insisted his physical condition – he had elevated blood pressure, was overweight and was under stress from a dispute with his U.S. Postal Service bosses – triggered the Sept. 18, 2001 heart attack, not Vioxx.She said there was doubt whether Humeston took the drug on the night of his heart attack, as he testified.Humeston had been given a 30-pill Vioxx prescription in May 2001 but didn’t use it all because he said it wasn’t working for him. But he got a second prescription two months later, which Sullivan insisted made no sense if he had pills left over and didn’t think it was working in the first place.Humeston and his wife, who also testified, remembered that he had taken the last pills in the bottle the night he was stricken, but she couldn’t remember when his last dose was when she was asked at the hospital later.”Think about whether that adds up,” said Sullivan.Last August, Merck lost the first trial over Vioxx when a Texas jury awarded $253 million in damages to the widow of a Vioxx user who was a marathon runner. Under Texas caps on punitive damages, that will be cut to no more than $26 million, and Merck plans to appeal.About half of the 7,000 Vioxx suits filed so far have been brought in Merck’s home state of New Jersey.At its peak, Vioxx brought Merck about $2.5 billion in annual revenues.—On the Net: http://www.merck.com—AP Business Writer Theresa Agovino contributed to this report from Atlantic City.