Facing its first federal trial of 7,000 such product liability cases nationwide, a Merck & Co. executive testified Tuesday that the "overhwelming majority" of company officials wanted to keep the popular pain-relieving drug, Vioxx, on the market.
In a trial under way in Houston, the widow of 53-year-old Richard Irvin of Florida claims his heart attack and death were caused by using Vioxx.
Merck's vice president of clinical research, Alise Reicin, M.D., said she still does not believe Vioxx causes heart attacks, but the company acted "conservatively" when it removed it from the market in September 2004.
According to the Associated Press, Reicin testified, "The overwhelming majority thought we should have Vioxx on the market but change the label; we elected to be very conservative and take Vioxx off the market."
In the meantime in St. Clair County, Merck & Co. was hit with two more Vioxx suits on Nov. 30.
Filed by John J. Driscoll of Brown & Crouppen of St. Louis--a major litigation recruiter of Vioxx users--one suit includes 20 plaintiffs, the other, just one.
In the multiple-plaintiff suit, all but one are from Illinois, the other from New Jersey. All maintain that Vioxx caused their heart problems. Two claim their spouses died from Vioxx usage.
"Plaintiffs are citizen residents of Illinois and New Jersey," 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."
Illinois plaintiffs include Willis Fuller, Leslie Bacon, Michael Bandy, Molly Bee, Robert Brolin, Olivia Bufkin, Tanya Bufkin, David Bullock, Martha Fisher, Clarice Green, Joseph Hannigan, Arthur Heavens, Kevin Januszewski, Kathryn Jorpeland, Linda Parratt, Lloyd Saathoff, Mamie Sanders, Ronal Sevier and Eleanor Taylor. Joann Grieco is from New Jersey.
In the second suit filed in St. Clair County that day, Illinois plaintiff Janet Rothwell complains that she suffered a stroke at age 49 because she used Vioxx.
The impact of Vioxx litigation is having a troubling effect on Merck. At the end of November, the drugmaker announced it would reduce its workforce by 11 percent, cutting 7,000 jobs and closing five plants by the end of 2008. It also faces the impending loss of patent protection of one of its most profitable drugs, Zocor.
In St. Clair and Madison counties, more than 100 Vioxx lawsuits have been filed since October 2004. In St. Clair County alone, there have been close to 45 Vioxx lawsuits.