December 13, 2005

Lone juror caused Merck’s Vioxx mistrial

HOUSTON (Reuters) - The mistrial in the first federal trial
over Merck & Co.'s painkiller Vioxx was caused by a lone
holdout on the jury who believed the company was at fault in
the death of a Florida man, the Houston Chronicle reported on

The U.S. judge hearing the case declared a mistrial on
Monday after the nine-member jury said they could not reach a
unanimous verdict in the case, which will be retried next year.

Eight jurors agreed with Merck's argument that the
Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, drug maker was not at fault in
the death of 53-year-old Richard "Dicky" Irvin Jr., a manager
at a seafood distributor, who took the drug for less than a
month for back pain.

But one juror, who requested anonymity, agreed with Irvin's
widow and told the newspaper that plaintiffs' lawyers "have
hard time getting a fair trial" in Houston.

U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon's office was not
immediately available to confirm the jury split.

Lawyers in the case said Judge Fallon has told them they
were not to contact the jurors involved in the mistrial.

Merck faces more than 7,000 lawsuits claiming that for
years it hid the risks of heart attack and stroke linked to its
blockbuster drug. Analysts have said the company's legal costs
to fight the cases could total several billion dollars.

The mistrial was viewed as a negative for Merck because the
plaintiff's case was seen as weak and the federal courts tend
to favor institutional defendants such as big companies.

The withdrawal of Vioxx, which was ultimately taken by more
than 20 million people and generated more than $2.5 billion in
sales for Merck in 2004, contributed to a $25 billion decline
in the company's market capitalization.