First California Vioxx Lawsuit Begins
Merck was aware of the cardiovascular risks of the COX-2 inhibitor Vioxx but failed to inform physicians, plaintiff attorney Thomas Girardi said on Tuesday in opening arguments in a lawsuit related to the medication in Los Angeles Superior Court, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports (Chang, AP/Contra Costa Times, 6/28). Merck, which withdrew Vioxx from the market in September 2004 over safety concerns, faces more than 13,000 lawsuits related to the medication in state and federal courts (American Health Line, 6/7).
In the current case, 71-year-old Stewart Grossberg alleges that Vioxx caused him to experience a heart attack in September 2001, more than two years after he began to take the medication. Girardi told jurors that Merck was aware Vioxx could cause "massive, terrible side effects, and they didn't tell anybody." He said that Grossberg had no history of heart attacks, was not overweight and exercised.
In addition, Girardi said that Richard Shaw, the physician who treated Grossberg, had not received warnings about the cardiovascular risks of Vioxx when he prescribed the medication to Grossberg in 1999 or when he prescribed the treatment a second time in 2003. Grossberg continued to take Vioxx until late 2004, when he experienced symptoms of a second heart attack, according to Girardi (Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times, 6/28).
In opening statements, Merck attorney Tarek Ismail said that Grossberg "had heart disease before he ever saw his first Vioxx pill," adding that the age and family history of the plaintiff increased his risk for a heart attack. "Vioxx, in fact, had no role in Grossberg's heart attack," Ismail said. In addition, Grossberg "only used the medicine on an on-again, off-again basis," Ismail said (AP/Contra Costa Times, 6/28).
Ismail added, "There's no data that shows infrequent use of Vioxx raises the risk of heart attacks." The trial likely will last six weeks.
Merck faces about 2,100 Vioxx lawsuits filed in California (Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times, 6/28). Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney has overseen the consolidation of the Vioxx lawsuits filed in California (AP/Contra Costa Times, 6/28).