Merck Asks Judge to Postpone Vioxx Case
July 5, 2005
Merck & Co. is asking a judge to delay the
first wrongful death trial over its pain reliever Vioxx, saying it cannot
receive a fair trial if the Texas case begins next week as scheduled.
The company wants the trial postponed for at least 60 days, citing
recent publicity about the drug. Merck withdrew the drug in September when
research showed that patients who took it for 18 months or longer more than
doubled their risk for heart attack and stroke. Since then, more than 2,400
Vioxx lawsuits have been filed nationwide.
A hearing on Merck's motion
is slated for Tuesday in Wharton, Texas. Mark Lanier, a Houston attorney for a
woman suing New Jersey-based Merck over her husband's 2001 death, said he would
oppose a delay.
In the motion, which was filed Friday, Merck said a
lawsuit brought Thursday by Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott that seeks $250 million
in damages for Vioxx purchases had "effectively eliminated any possibility Merck
can receive a fair trial beginning July 11."
It also noted that a law
firm that helped the attorney general's office on the lawsuit represented at
least six plaintiffs suing the company.
"The timing of the [state]
lawsuit is hardly a coincidence," Merck's motion said.
The filing also
said a story in the "national media" that cited a privileged attorney-client
communication could prejudice a jury. Associated Press reported June 22 that
Merck scientists had contacted company attorneys in 2000 about reformulating
Vioxx over concerns that it could cause negative cardiovascular side effects.
Lanier said Monday that Merck signed an agreement with him in May not to
postpone the trial for any reason other than the health of the lead attorneys.
He also said he would oppose the motion for a delay because the story
about the Texas attorney general's lawsuit did not receive prominent coverage in
the Houston Chronicle — the region's major newspaper — and the paper in Brazoria
County did not publish the Associated Press article. The suit is expected to be
heard in that county, which is south of Houston.