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M. Brandon Smith
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Opening Arguments Given In Midwest Vioxx Trial

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In a Vioxx trial that is expected to last four to six weeks in Madison County, opening arguments were given yesterday by both sides in the first Midwest trial over the controversial drug. The plaintiff’s attorney who represents the surviving husband of Pattie Schwaller told the jurors that Merck & Co. as the manufacturer of Vioxx chose to put profits over people and as a result contributed to Mrs. Schwaller’s death. Attorney’s for Merck quickly pointed out they did not agree and blamed her death on everything they could think of in rejecting liability for her tragic end.

According to business week.com:

A Schwaller attorney, Andy Birchfield, told jurors that Merck’s own documents show the company “worked hard to keep the truth about Vioxx and its (potential cardiac) dangers quiet,” even before the drug won Food and Drug Administration approval in 1999.
Despite documented red flags about Vioxx raised by outside medical experts and the company’s own advisers, Birchfield said, Merck found Vioxx to be a cash cow worth keeping on the market at all costs, alone accounting for 7 percent of the company’s revenue.
“Merck engaged in an aggressive, well-orchestrated marketing campaign to give doctors the false assurance that Vioxx was safe,” he said. When doctors questioned the drug, he argued, Merck bought their silence with grant money or discredited them.

As it has done in previous Vioxx trials, Merck argued that heart problems by certain plaintiffs, including Patricia Schwaller, were caused by pre-existing health issues, not Vioxx.

The effects and result of this Midwest Vioxx Trial will be an interesting one to watch over the next few weeks. Its impact could prove to be very important in evaluating the overall Vioxx litigation landscape for the remaining 18,000+ lawsuits that are currently pending against Merck & Co.