NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Merck, the drug maker that faces
thousands of lawsuits following the withdrawal of the painkiller
Vioxx, has requested that a Texas judge postpone the first of its
civil trials because of recent negative publicity.
& Co. (down $0.25 to $30.81, Research)
filed a motion requesting that Texas Superior Court postpone its
July 11 date, when Houston attorney W. Mark Lanier is scheduled to
take on the
company on behalf of Carol Ernst, who blames Vioxx for the 2001
death of her husband.
The motion, filed by New York law firm Hughes, Hubbard &
Reed, requests a 60-day postponement "on the ground that recent
pretrial publicity has destroyed any possibility that Merck can
received a fair trial commencing July 11."
Lanier said he asked the judge to deny the continuation.
"Merck's day of reckoning is at hand," said Lanier. "We smell
desperation on their part."
Merck's attorneys filed the motion July 1, the day after the
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sued
the drug maker for allegedly misrepresenting the safety of arthritis
painkiller Vioxx. Abbott is seeking $168 million in damages because
the Texas Medicaid program reimbursed pharmacists for Vioxx
"Whatever lies behind this suspicious timing, it effectively
eliminates any possibility that Merck can receive a fair trial
beginning July 11," read the motion from Hughes, Hubbard & Reed.
Merck's lawyers named the following news agencies as contributors
to its negative publicity: CNN, USA Today, The Wall Street
Journal, Associated Press, and Texas-based news organizations
Houston Chronicle and KHOU-TV.
Merck pulled Vioxx, an arthritis painkiller worth $2.5 billion in
annual sales, from the market last Sept. 30, citing a risk of heart
attack and stroke from its use. Since that time, more than 2,300
lawsuits have been filed against Merck, a Whitehouse Station,
N.J.-based company with $22.9 billion in 2004 sales.
A spokesman for Hughes, Hubbard & Reed said the firm plans to
defend Merck in the Ernst case by pointing to a lack of scientific
evidence proving that Vioxx caused the plaintiff's death.
Other drugs in the class of cox-2 inhibitors, which block joint
inflammation, have run into trouble with the Food and Drug
On April 7, the FDA asked Pfizer
Inc. (down $0.01 to $27.09, Research),
the world's biggest drug company, to take Bextra,
a $1.3 billion drug, off the market. On the same day, the FDA said
it was considering a black box, its most serious warning, for
Celebrex, a $3.3 billion blockbuster. Pfizer is in negotiations with
the FDA over details of the label.
These drugs were approved by the FDA before entering the market.
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