Attorneys on both sides of the trial to determine whether Merck & Co’s Vioxx (rofecoxib) was responsible for the death of a patient, Robert Ernst, have deposed the coroner who conducted the autopsy, according to a report in Forbes.

Vioxx was pulled from the global market last year after trial results showed a doubling in the risk of heart attack or stroke amongst patients who took the drug for more than 18 months [[01/10/04a]]. As would be expected, Merck has been hit with a battery of lawsuits from plaintiffs seeking damages, leading to this – the first civil trial placing Vioxx firmly in the dock [[18/07/05d]], [[19/07/05f]].

According to Forbes, the coroner – Dr Maria Araneta – was to be called to the stand yesterday as a witness for the plaintiff. However, Merck’s lawyers requested that they be allowed to question Dr Araneta privately and the judge is still to decide whether her testimony will be presented to the jurors. Dr Araneta attributed Mr Ernst’s death to an irregular heartbeat and clogged arteries, which Merck asserts is proof that Vioxx was not responsible for his death. However, the plaintiff’s lawyer, Mark Lanier, now claims that Dr Araneta is prepared to testify that a heart attack killed Mr Ernst and that the rapidity of his death meant no heart damage was noted.