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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 November 2005, 23:12 GMT
Merck cleared in Vioxx drug case
Vioxx tablets
Merck is facing thousands of Vioxx-related lawsuits
US pharmaceutical giant Merck has won a high-profile court case in New Jersey over its arthritis painkiller Vioxx.

An Atlantic City jury found it gave doctors adequate warning about possible health risks and did not commit consumer fraud in marketing the drug.

Merck will not now be held liable for the 2001 heart attack suffered by a man taking the painkiller, but still faces thousands more similar lawsuits.

Merck shares closed up 3.8%, at $29.48, on New York's Stock Exchange.

In the Atlantic City case the jury reached its decision after just over a day of deliberations, following a seven-week trial.

Lawyers for 60-year-old postal worker Frederick "Mike" Humeston had claimed that his heart attack was caused by Vioxx.

Texas appeal

In August, a Texas jury told Merck to pay $253m (141m), later cut to $26m, after ruling that Vioxx had contributed to a man's death and that the firm had been negligent.

Merck, which is facing 6,400 lawsuits of which half have been lodged in New Jersey, is appealing against the Texas decision.

Merck withdrew Vioxx last year after its own study said it could double the risk of heart attack or stroke.

After the New Jersey legal decision Frederic Ruffy, analyst at Optionetics, said: "This is favourable for Merck and has also pushed up the pharmaceutical sector in general."

However, he added: "Although this is a big victory, they still face a lot of pending lawsuits."

'Investigations ongoing'

In the UK, Sheffield law firm Irwin Mitchell is pursuing claims on behalf of people who have suffered heart attacks, some fatal, which it is believed may have been caused by Vioxx.

Irwin Mitchell says it has advised 129 people who may have potential claims, with any moves likely to take the form in the UK of a group action under the Consumer Protection Act 1987.

"Investigations are ongoing and proceedings in this country are likely to commence in the early part of next year," said an Irwin Mitchell spokesman.

"The advantage to claimants by pursuing claims under this legislation is that manufacturers may be found liable for a defective product, without a finding of fault.

"Claimants have only to prove that the drug was defective and that it caused harm"

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