New Jersey Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee on Monday denied a request by Merck’s defense team to postpone the second trial related to the drug maker’s COX-2 inhibitor Vioxx, AP/Long Island Newsday reports.
Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market in September 2004 over safety concerns. In the first trial, a Texas jury on Aug. 19 found Merck liable in the death of former Vioxx user Robert Ernst and said Ernst’s widow should be awarded $253.5 million in damages (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 8/22). Merck faces nearly 5,000 lawsuits related to the medication. In the New Jersey case, plaintiff Frederick Humeston alleges that Vioxx caused him to have a heart attack shortly after he began taking the medication four years ago.
Motions by the Defense
Merck attorneys last week filed a motion urging Higbee to postpone the start of the trial for 45 days because of the “media blitz” over the Aug. 19 verdict (AP/Newsday, 8/29). However, Higbee said the New Jersey trial will begin as scheduled on Sept. 12. Higbee also denied a motion by Merck attorneys seeking to have company marketing materials excluded from evidence. Higbee said, “The motion is way too broad. It’s impossible for me to exclude marketing materials” (Silverman, Newark Star-Ledger, 8/30).
Higbee denied a request by plaintiff’s attorney Chris Seeger to introduce as evidence a letter by a Stanford University scientist who claims Merck executives harassed him after he was critical of Vioxx. The letter was permitted as evidence in the Texas trial, but Higbee ruled it was hearsay and excluded it from the New Jersey case. In addition, Higbee ruled against a motion by Seeger to introduce warning letters sent by FDA to Merck about Vioxx.