As reported by the Associated Press today, the legal fight over Vioxx returned to New Jersey on Monday, with the lawyer for a man who blames his heart attack on the arthritis drug telling jurors that executives with manufacturer Merck & Co. knowingly concealed its risks from consumers. Mark Lanier, the attorney for Thomas Cona, 59, said the use of Vioxx made people with risk factors for heart disease “walking time bombs” but Merck withheld information about the drug to make more money selling it. Excerpts from the AP report:
They decided to cut corners. That’s basically what this case is about,” Lanier said in opening statements.
Cona’s case is being tried along with that of John McDarby, 77, of Park Ridge, N.J., because the two cases have been consolidated by the judge overseeing more than 5,000 state court cases against Merck.
So far, Merck has won two Vioxx cases and lost a third in courtrooms around the country. Another trial is ongoing in Rio Grande City, Texas.
More than 9,650 lawsuits over Vioxx have been filed in state and federal courts, but the Cona-McDarby trial is the first to involve plaintiffs who allege long-term use. Cona’s lawyers say he took it for 22 months; McDarby’s say he took it for four years.
In the last New Jersey trial, a jury absolved Merck of liability for an Idaho postal worker who suffered a heart attack after taking Vioxx for only two months.
But Cona’s Texas attorney Lanier won a $253 million jury verdict for the widow of a Wal-Mart produce manager who died of a heart attack while taking Vioxx. That verdict is expected to be reduced on appeal.
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee planned to use a pair of chess clocks to enforce time limits agreed upon by lawyers for Merck, Cona and McDarby. The plaintiffs’ attorneys will get a total of 40 hours to present their cases, not counting opening statements and closing arguments. Merck will get 35 hours.