Jury selection starts in Vioxx case
July 13, 2005
Reuters reports that jury selection in the first of thousands of lawsuits against Merck & Co.''s Vioxx began on Monday, July 11 as the drug giant sought to defend itself against claims that it hid the risks of the popular painkiller. The case in a Texas state court in Angleton, near Houston, pits the family of deceased Texan Robert Ernst against the big drugmaker, which pulled Vioxx off the market in September after studies showed prolonged use could increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. The lawsuit could help determine the direction litigation will take in the other state courts in New Jersey, California and Texas, and in the U.S. federal court in New Orleans, a legal expert said. Ernst had been taking Vioxx for six months when he died at age 59 in May 2001 of complications from heart arrhythmia. His family blames the drug for his death and is seeking unspecified damages from Merck, which is based in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey. Merck, which faces nearly 4,000 lawsuits and 118 class-action suits, has said it tested Vioxx on nearly 10,000 patients during clinical trials and pulled the drug as soon as the danger of its prolonged use became clear. The company argued in court documents that the heightened risk did not occur unless patients took the drug for longer than 18 months, far longer than Ernst had taken it.