Vioxx suit includes 25 Illinois plaintiffs

Ann Knef Sep. 18, 2006, 11:36am

Twenty five Illinois residents who suffered thrombotic cardiovascular events are suing Merck, the maker of Vioxx, in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

Represented by Seth Sharrock Webb of Brown & Crouppen in St. Louis, the plaintiffs include: Sue Ann Archer, Linda Arends, Jerry Bottoms, Cheston Cleveland, Bonnie Copeland, Charley Daughhetee, Aurelia Detres, Darlene Devenport, Albert Dulinski, Jr., Martha Graham, Everett R. Jenkins, Carl Justice, Anita Mackey, Merle Alan Madison, Kathleen McElray, Harold Ousley, Liselotte R. Quick, Diane Radar, Dennis Shafer, Charles Stauber, Minnie Taylor, William Taylor, Walter Wahlfeldt, Shirley Wise and Dorothy Yarbrough.

Brown & Crouppen is responsible for bringing dozens of Vioxx lawsuits in St. Clair and Madison counties.

According to the new suit filed Sept. 14, the plaintiffs allege that Vioxx is defectively designed, inadequately tested, dangerous to human health and lacked proper warnings as to the dangers associated with its use, all of which caused or significantly contributed to their heart problems.

Vioxx was removed from the drug market on Sept. 30, 2004, because a study indicated it could cause cardiac problems. It is the brand name of rofecoxib, a cox-2 inhibitor and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID).

The suit belongs in state court and not in federal court where many of the thousands of Vioxx lawsuits filed across the country have been removed, plaintiffs' attorney argues. Nationwide, more than 15,000 Vioxx suits have been filed.

"Plaintiffs are citizen residents of Illinois," the complaint states. "Defendant is a corporate citizen of the State of New Jersey. Accordingly, there is no complete diversity of citizenship sufficient for federal jurisdiction. Plaintiffs bring this complaint solely under state law and not under federal law..."

According to an Aug. 7 SEC filing, Merck indicated it may not be able to meet the costs of defending its product.

"At this time, the Company believes that its insurance coverage with respect to the Vioxx Lawsuits will not be adequate to cover its defense costs and any losses," Merck states in the filing.

It also stated it has product liability insurance with upper limits of about $630 million after deductibles and co-insurance.

While Merck struggles to defend Vioxx over allegations it caused heart problems, a new wave of litigation may be on the way.

According to an article in the Free Market News Network Sept. 18, "a lawsuit filed may be the first lawsuit of its kind – alleging that Vioxx inhibits, delays, and even prevents bone/spine healing," the report states. The article did not indicate where the new lawsuit was filed.

And to further complicate matters for Merck, a study published earlier this month by The Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that Vioxx may have posed heart risks that a similar drug, Celebrex, and other painkillers do not.

The Food and Drug Administration, in the meantime, is defending Vioxx against assertions made by an inside scientist, Dr. David J. Graham, known for blowing the whistle on Vioxx and the FDA.

Graham testified before a Senate panel in 2004 about Vioxx's risks and accused his agency of knowing about the drug's dangers before it was approved for marketing.

The FDA recently responded to Graham in a statement, "Dr. Graham's views...are his own, and do not reflect the official positions of the FDA."

The Associated Press recently compiled the following Vioxx "timeline":

  • Sept. 30, 2004: Merck voluntarily withdraws Vioxx from the market after halting a long-term study that it said showed Vioxx could double risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for at least 18 months. The study, called APPROVe, had focused on whether Vioxx could prevent reoccurrence of colon polyps.

  • February 2005: FDA panel concludes Vioxx and other similar drugs all pose heart risks, but should be available to consumers.

  • Aug. 19, 2005: Texas jury awards $253.4 million to the widow of Robert Ernst, who died in May 2001. Texas punitive damage caps will cut that to about $26 million.

  • Nov. 3, 2005: A jury in Atlantic City, N.J., clears Merck in September 2001 heart attack of Boise, Idaho, postal worker Federick "Mike" Humeston, who had taken Vioxx for about two months.

  • Feb. 17, 2006: Federal jurors in New Orleans clear Merck in the May 2001 death of Richard "Dicky" Irvin, who took Vioxx for about a month. This was a retrial; a December trial ended with a hung jury.

  • April 11, 2006: A split verdict in Atlantic City, N.J. A state jury awards $13.9 million to 77-year-old John McDarby, who had a heart attack in April 2004, after four years on Vioxx. But it absolves Merck in the case of 60-year-old Thomas Cona, stricken June 9, 2003, after almost two years on the drug.

  • April 21, 2006: A jury in Rio Grande City, Texas, awards $32 million to the family of Leonel Garza, 71, who had heart disease for 23 years and died in 2001 after less than a month on Vioxx.

  • June 26, 2006: The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine publishes a correction to APPROVe: the risk of heart problems rose soon after people began taking the drug, not only after 18 months of use as Merck still contends.

  • July 13, 2006: A jury in Atlantic City, N.J., rules Merck was not responsible for a heart attack suffered by Elaine Doherty, a 68-year-old diabetic homemaker. She had a heart attack in January 2004, after 2 1/2 years on the drug.

  • Aug. 8, 2006: A jury in Los Angeles clears Merck in the 2001 heart attack suffered by Stewart Grossberg, 71.

  • Aug. 17, 2006: A state judge in New Jersey overturns Merck's victory in the Humeston case, saying evidence uncovered since the November verdict warranted a new trial. She found of particular note the revelation that Merck left some heart attack data out of its "VIGOR" report.

  • Aug. 17, 2006: A federal jury in New Orleans orders Merck to pay $51 million to Gerald Barnett, who began taking Vioxx in 2000, had a heart attack Sept. 6, 2002, and continued taking Vioxx until the week before it was withdrawn from the market.

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