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Last Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Jury mulling $40m Vioxx verdict

By Guto Harri
BBC North America business correspondent

Widow Carol Ernst in court during Vioxx case
Mrs Ernst says Vioxx is to blame for her husband's premature death
A US jury is considering its verdict in the first civil trial involving the once-popular painkiller Vioxx.

The 12 person jury has spent a month hearing evidence in a case launched by the widow of Robert Ernst - who died suddenly in his sleep in 2001.

Lawyers representing Carol Ernst accuse drugs giant Merck of deception and denial over the past decade, claiming the drug led to Mr Ernst's early death.

The case is one of 4,200 federal and state lawsuits involving the drug.


Robert Ernst was a fit 59-year-old living in a small town called Angleton in Texas.

He led an active life and ran marathons, but four years ago he died suddenly in his sleep.

Like 20 million people in more than 80 countries around the world, he had been using a painkiller called Vioxx.

The drug was initially attractive because it could be taken over a prolonged period without a major risk of stomach ulcers or bleeding.

But an extensive study in 2000, concluded that - over time - Vioxx could double the risk of heart attack or stroke. The drug was withdrawn.

Lawyers representing Mrs Ernst are pressing for at least $40m in damages having argued that Vioxx had prompted her husband's premature death.

They accused the company of minimising safety concerns for a decade in order to profit from the sales.

Merck insist they acted responsibly and believed Vioxx to be safe until it was withdrawn.

Experts believe the company could end up paying out around $18bn as a result of the thousands of cases involving the drug that have been launched.

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