Los Angeles A California jury on Wednesday cleared pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. of liability in the case of an elderly man who claimed his heart ailments were caused by the drug maker's once-popular painkiller Vioxx.
After deliberating for about five hours in California's first trial over the drug, the 12-person jury determined that Merck was not negligent, did not conceal information and that Vioxx did not cause Stewart Grossberg's health problems.
"We didn't feel that a case was ever made that there is a connection between Vioxx and heart attacks," said jury foreman Charles Sullenger, 59. "In the end it simply boiled down to the burden of proof was not met in our opinion."
Jurors, however, agreed that there were potential risks for users taking Vioxx based on scientific studies.
Grossberg, 71, had sought compensatory and punitive damages, and more than $214,000 for medical bills.
The two recent Merck victories bode well for the company at future trials because it shows that jurors are looking closely at the drug's effects on users, legal observers said.
"One of the messages that these two consecutive victories send is that juries are very receptive to the Merck argument that the drug isn't the problem with these older patients, it's their own illnesses," said Benjamin Zipursky, a professor at Fordham Law School in New York. "That strategy is obviously working fairly well in these cases."
The drug maker faces more than 16,000 lawsuits involving Vioxx, which was pulled from the market in 2004 after a study found that it increased the risk of heart attacks.
Merck has now won five Vioxx cases, including one last month in New Jersey, and has lost three. Another trial began this week in federal court in New Orleans.