Roughly 20 million people between 1999 and 2004 took Vioxx. Merck, the country’s third-largest drug company, pulled the drug off the market in September 2004 after a long-term study suggested that it increased the risk of strokes and heart attacks if taken for 18 months or longer.
On December 12, 2005, the third trial against Merck & Company questioning the safety of the drug Vioxx ended in a mistrial as the 9 jurors were unable to reach a verdict on the liability of the drug’s manufacturer.
The first two trials were in State Courts and resulted in one judgment against Merck and one in their favour. This was the first trial in the Federal Court system, where a unanimous verdict is required, and the fact that the jurors could not come to a unanimous decision after deliberating through Friday afternoon and the whole of Saturday shows that there was at least one juror who believed that the death of the plaintiff’s husband after taking Vioxx for less than a month could be attributed to the drug.
It has been Merck’s contention that Vioxx would have to be taken for at least 18 months for there to be any ill-effects from it, and have repeatedly stated that they will vigorously fight every claim. Evelyn Irvin Plunkett, the widow of Richard “Dicky” Irvin, brought a claim against Merck for the death of her husband. He was the manager of a wholesale seafood company in Florida, supplying seafood to restaurants, and Mr. Irvin helped to unload the catch from boats that docked behind the seafood shop, carrying boxes that weighed 50 to 100 pounds. He died at his desk in May 2001 when the clot suddenly obstructed the flow of blood from his heart.
When Judge Fallon declared a mistrial, he said that Merck could seek to retry the case or to reach a settlement with the plaintiff, the patient’s widow. Merck issued a statement that it was prepared for a retrial if necessary and reiterated its position in the case: “We believe that Mr. Irvin would have suffered a heart attack when he did, whether he was taking Vioxx or not.”
Merck argued that Mr. Irvin had several longstanding conditions, like clogged arteries, that put him at risk of heart attack. “If a retrial is scheduled we will be right back with the same facts,” Kenneth C. Frazier, Merck’s general counsel, said today in a statement. “The Vioxx litigation will go on for years. We have the resources and the resolve to address these cases, one by one, in a reasonable and responsible manner.”
The next trial over Vioxx’s safety is scheduled to begin on 9 January, 2006 in a New Jersey state court in Atlantic City. Presiding over the case will be Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee , who oversaw Merck’s victory against Mr. Humeston’s claim and will oversee more than 2,900 cases filed against Merck in New Jersey. W. Mark Lanier, the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the first trial, said in November that he had been asked to lead the case and planned to do so.