Robert Rowland

An O'Fallon man filed a civil suit against Merck & Co. in Madison County Circuit Court April 20, seeking damages for personal injuries, death and economic damages he claims his wife suffered as a result of taking the prescription medication Vioxx.

David Skittino, Sr. claims his wife, Dominica, died on April 21, 2005, as a result of taking Vioxx for at least two years. She suffered a heart attack and cardiovascular injuries due to clotting or thrombosis that resulted in her death, the suit claims.

Vioxx was introduced in the United States in 1999. Vioxx is a Cyclo-Oxygenase-2 (cox2) inhibitor and was used to treat arthritis and is in the class of drugs called NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory). Other NSAID drugs include Ibuprofen, Celebrex and Aleve.

Merck pulled Vioxx on Sept. 30, 2004, after a study confirmed that it increased the risk of heart attack and stroke if taken for more than 18 months. Within days of it being pulled from shelves, lawsuits were filed across the country against Merck & Co.

Represented by Robert Rowland and Aaron Dickey of the Goldenberg firm in Edwardsville, Skittino claims Merck knew that Vioxx contributes to platelet aggregation or clotting, which can lead to heart attacks, strokes, deep vein thrombosis and other conditions from abnormal clot formation.

He claims Merck ignored and fraudulently concealed the risks in order to sell Vioxx, avoid the costs of safety precautions, and avoid litigation by people injured by Vioxx.

"The actions or inactions constitute gross negligence and demonstrate a reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others," the complaint states.

According to Skittino, Merck failed to design a safe product, negligently placed Vioxx on the market, failed to remove Vioxx from the market and failed to fund and conduct medical and scientific studies to determine the overall safety of Vioxx.

He also claims that the drug did not come with proper warnings regarding adverse side effects associated with its use and the comparative severity and duration of the side effects.

Skittino is seeking a judgment against Merck in excess of $250,000, costs, attorneys' fees, and other relief that the court deems just and proper.

Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder has been assigned to the case.

Last week, Texas State District Judge Randy Wilson dismissed a lawsuit filed by plaintiff Ruby Ledbetter against Merck.

Wilson ruled that warning claims are preempted because the Food and Drug Administration approved Merck's warning as written. Wilson presides over all of the Vioxx cases filed in Texas.

He based his decision on a law passed in Texas in 2003 that says a drug manufacturer is not liable in allegations it failed to provide sufficient warnings about its product if the drug in question came with warnings approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

With his ruling at least 1,000 cases against Merck in Texas are now on hold until a higher court weighs in on the case.

On March 27, a Madison County jury ruled in favor of Merck after a month long trial. After the verdict jurors said that no matter the argument presented, Merck warned users about the dangers of the drug.

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