An elderly man who sued Merck & Co. had a long history of heart disease before he took the painkiller Vioxx that he claims caused his heart attack, a lawyer argued Tuesday in closing arguments of a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company.
Merck attorney Tarek Ismail told jurors that they should reject the claim that Vioxx caused Stewart Grossberg's heart attack or accelerated his heart disease. He cited testimony from a pharmacist who reviewed Grossberg's records that showed he had three prescriptions of 30 Vioxx pills each in the two years before his heart attack in September 2001.
"Mr. Grossberg had heart disease for years and that heart disease started years before he had his first Vioxx pill," Ismail said.
The case -- the first Vioxx liability lawsuit to go to trial in California -- was brought by Grossberg, 71, who began taking Vioxx in 1999 to manage joint pain in his knees, hands and elsewhere caused by osteoarthritis.
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.
More than 2,000 Vioxx lawsuits filed in California have been consolidated in Los Angeles County Superior Court by Judge Victoria G. Chaney.
The outcome of the case is expected to serve as a guide for navigating through other California cases involving Vioxx.
The Northridge man blames his heart attack on Vioxx and is seeking unspecified damages on grounds that the company was negligent and failed to warn users of the drug, among other allegations. Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck claims Vioxx had no role in Grossberg's heart ailments.
The lawsuit is the eighth to go to trial in the United States. Merck has won four cases and lost three. Another trial began this week in New Orleans.
Earlier, Grossberg's attorney, Thomas Girardi, argued Merck knew the drug caused heightened risk of heart ailments but sought to mislead physicians and market Vioxx anyway.
Girardi implored the jury to set an example for other drug companies by returning a verdict in favor of his client.