Thu, Oct 13, 2011 - Page 10 News List

Merck Australia wins appeal in Vioxx lawsuit


An Australian court yesterday overturned a judgement that found the once-popular painkiller Vioxx doubled the risk of heart attack and was unfit for consumption.

The Federal Court’s decision reverses a ruling from last year that had found in favor of an Australian man who blamed the since-recalled drug for a heart attack he suffered. The court said that the man, a former smoker, was susceptible to a heart attack independent of taking the drug.

Last year’s judgement — which awarded Graeme Peterson A$287,000 (US$285,000) in compensation — had opened the door for claims from hundreds of other litigants in a lawsuit against US pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co over the arthritis painkiller.

Vioxx was taken off the international market in 2004 after research showed it raised the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Merck, the world’s second-largest drugmaker by revenue, later paid a US$4.85 billion settlement to resolve about 50,000 lawsuits in the US

Peterson sued Merck and its Australian subsidiary, Merck Sharpe & Dohme, arguing the painkiller was the cause of his 2003 heart attack, which left him unable to work.

In March last year, Federal Court Judge Christopher Jessup found that Merck Sharpe & Dohme failed in its duty of care by not warning Peterson’s doctor about the drug’s potential cardiovascular risks, and by its sales representatives emphasizing the drug’s safety. Jessup also concluded that the consumption of Vioxx doubled the risk of heart attack and was unfit for use as a pain reliever.

Merck Sharpe & Dohme appealed that decision. Yesterday, the Federal Court in Melbourne ruled that last year’s judgement should be thrown out and said the drug company was not liable for damages. The money originally awarded to Peterson has been held by the court since the initial ruling, so there is nothing for him to pay back.

In their ruling yesterday, the judges said the case against Vioxx was circumstantial, and there was no medical “signature” that proved Vioxx contributed Peterson’s heart attack. The court said that Peterson — a former smoker who was 51 at the time of the event — was at risk of a heart attack independent of the medication.

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