The fourth Vioxx lawsuit against Merck & Co. will be held this month in a rural Texas court, the drug giant said Tuesday, and a retrial of the federal case that ended in a hung jury will be held in February in New Orleans. 

The family of Leonel Garza, 71, has sued Merck, blaming Vioxx for Garza’s fatal heart attack in 2001, said the company, and the trial will be held Jan. 24 in Starr County, Texas.

Merck (down $0.34 to $33.32, Research) said that Vioxx did not cause Garza’s death, noting that Garza had a 23-year history of cardiovascular disease and a prior heart attack before suffering the fatal heart attack on April 21, 2001. Merck said Garza was given a one-week supply of Vioxx 25 mg samples for arm pain about one month before his death.

Hockema, Tippit & Escobedo, the Texas law firm that is representing the Garza family, was not immediately available for comment.

The drug company also said that the Plunkett v. Merck case, which ended in a hung jury on Dec. 13, 2005 in a federal court in Houston under U.S. District Court Judge Eldon Fallon, has been scheduled for retrial on Feb. 6. This next time, the trial will held in New Orleans, where Fallon’s court was based before it was temporarily displaced by the destruction of Hurricane Katrina.

Evelyn Irvin Plunkett of St. Augustine, Fla., sued Merck for the 2001 death of her husband Richard Irvin, who took the drug for one month before his fatal heart attack. The jury was unable to reach a verdict. Right after the non-sequestered jury began deliberations, the New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial reporting that Merck had deleted information regarding Vioxx-related deaths from a study it provided to the journal in 2000.

Merck denied the claim. But plaintiff lawyer Jere Beasley, who represented Plunkett in the first trial, said the report undermines the credibility of a key Merck witness Alise Reicin, the company’s vice president of clinical research.

”The report from the medical journal would definitely be used and my opinion will be extremely damaging to Merck,” said Beasley. “To have a glaring omission like that, which had to be intentional because of the way it was done, is very telling in so far as the motive.”

Beasley also said he was concerned about the ability to get a complete jury in flood-ravaged New Orleans.

Vioxx, an arthritis painkiller, was pulled off the market by Merck on Sept. 30, 2004 after a study showed an increased risk of heat attacks and strokes in patients using the drug for at least 18 months.

Since the withdrawal, nearly 10,000 Vioxx-related lawsuits have been filed against Merck, which is based in Whitehouse Station, N.J. The majority of the suits have been filed in state court in the company’s home state, or in federal court under Fallon.

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