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November 4, 2005

Merck held not liable for heart attack in New Jersey case

Topics: Medical-Legal Jurisprudence Articles

Merck has successfully defended a lawsuit regarding liability concerning the taking of the arthritis drug Vioxx. The jury in New Jersey found that doctors and patients had been given adequate warnings about possible side effects of the drug. The success of this case will not prevent further lawsuits going ahead, but it might be the beginning of plaintiffs being required to have a stronger burden of proof.

Merck withdrew the drug Vioxx after a trial in which it was found that there was a higher probability of heart attacks when Vioxx was taken in higher than prescribed dosage. In Texas the jury had decided to punish Merck by awarding a widow a very large sum of money because her husband was using Vioxx when he had a heart attack, despite the fact that the attending medical examiner could not find actual evidence that this Vioxx was implicated in his death.

Around the world there are millions of patients who had been using Vioxx to successfully control their arthritis symptoms. The trials that were conducted were for conditions other than arthritis and the amounts being given were larger than prescribed in normal circumstances. All prescription drugs include directions for use as well as adequate warnings regarding possible side effects of those drugs. It is as much the patient's responsibility to read these instructions and warnings very carefully. Perhaps the courts should be insisting that the patients have to indicate that they read and understood the risks of taking the medication concerned. If the patient wants to sue for malpractice then the burden of proof should be on the patient that he or she understood the instructions, as well as the risks, especially the possible side effects.

The question of whether or not Vioxx can cause heart attacks when it is used in normal circunstances is very much a question where there is an element of doubt. In other words, one needs to have detailed knowledge about the patient's condition prior to the heart attack. If the patient had high blood pressure, for example, then he or she would not have been a good candidate for taking the drug Vioxx and for that matter Celebrex would also not be recommended for that patient. In any case the patient should be have regular checks for blood pressure levels. However, high blood pressure is not the only cause of a heart attack. The patient could have high blood cholestoral levels or he or she might have bad a defect of the heart that had been undetected, or a myriad of other reasons might have also contributed to the heart attack. Only if there are no other available factors as a cause of a heart attack should a patient be allowed to sue Merck.

Posted by at November 4, 2005 5:00 AM

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