A Frederick County woman is suing the maker of Vioxx, claiming the pain reliever that was later taken off the market caused her husband’s death.
The suit seeks $10 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages for the death of Richard Matthews. Matthew’s wife, Lisa Matthews, who lives in Thurmont, said her husband died of a heart arrhythmia few days after he began taking the painkiller in May 2002 for sciatic nerve pain.
“The last words he told me before he died were, ‘I took two Vioxx, the doctor said it was OK,”‘ Matthews told The (Baltimore) Sun. “Those words will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
Matthews said her husband, who was 42, did not have any previous heart problems.
Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., pulled Vioxx off the market last September after a study showed it doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes in patients taking the drug for more than 18 months. So far, more than 2,400 lawsuits have been filed involving Vioxx.
The attorney for Lisa Matthews, David Albright Jr., said he expects the case to be tried in federal court in New Orleans, where many of the suits against Vioxx maker Merck & Co. are being heard.
Attorney Jim Fitzpatrick, who is representing Merck in the Vioxx cases, said it will be difficult for plaintiffs to show a connection between Vioxx and heart problems.
“They have to prove that Vioxx caused their injuries,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s a very difficult burden. Numerous other risk factors that are common are also known to cause heart attacks and other related injuries.”
Merck will take an aggressive stance, said Seton Hall University law professor Howard Erichson, an expert on complex litigation.
“Merck knows that as soon as they start settling cases, a lot more cases will come out of the woodwork,” Erichson said.
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