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.