Federal Vioxx Retrial Set for Feb. in New Orleans

December 23, 2005

Round Two of the first U.S. federal trial challenging safety of Merck & Co.’s drug Vioxx will be Feb. 6 in New Orleans, a judge has told attorneys.

U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon of New Orleans held a private telephone conference with attorneys to set the date and place to retry the case that ended Monday in a mistrial.

The trial, which began Nov. 29 and went into the jury’s hands after closing arguments Dec. 8, took place in Houston because of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath on its original venue of New Orleans.

Jere Beasley, one of the lead plaintiff’s attorneys, and Kent Jarrell, spokesman for Merck’s legal team, said Fallon set the date in the case’s original venue.

Fallon declared a mistrial 20 minutes into the jury’s fourth day of deliberations because the panel hadn’t reached a unanimous verdict as required in federal litigation after 18 hours of deliberations.

Two jurors told The Associated Press that one of the nine-member panel refused to absolve Merck of liability, leaving them split 8-1 in favor of the company.

The result leaves Merck with a win and a loss in two state trials and an undecided in its first federal trial.

The company withdrew Vioxx from the market in September last year when a study showed it could double risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for 18 months or longer. About 20 million people took the once-popular painkiller, and the company faces billions in potential payouts stemming from about 7,000 pending state and federal lawsuits.
The federal trial centered on the 2001 death of Richard “Dicky” Irvin, a Florida wholesale seafood company manager who took Vioxx for about a month.

Merck blamed Irvin’s clogged arteries for his death, and said Vioxx couldn’t be responsible because he took the drug for such a short time. Irvin’s widow, Evelyn Irvin Plunkett, countered that Vioxx caused a blood clot in one of Irvin’s arteries, which led to his fatal heart attack.

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