Merck traded its mission of healing for relentless marketing and pursuit of profits more than a decade ago, a plaintiff’s lawyer in the nation’s first Vioxx-related trial told jurors Thursday.
Mark Lanier, representing widow Carol Ernst, said in his opening statement that he will skewer what he called the murky ethics of a company he said knew the popular painkiller could be dangerous years before a study showed it could double the risk of heart attack or stroke. That study prompted Merck to voluntarily sweep it from the market last year.
Ernst’s husband, Robert, a personal trainer, died in his sleep four years ago of an arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. He had been taking Vioxx to ease pain in his hands. (From our archive: Merck to face first Vioxx trial before Texas jury)
Lawyers associated with other Vioxx lawsuits packed the courtroom for four hours of opening statements — two hour for each side.
With photos, graphics and documents on a large screen behind him, Lanier targeted former Merck CEO Ray Gilmartin. He described Gilmartin as the first non-doctor or non-scientist — “a Harvard-trained businessman” — to run Merck, starting in 1994.