NEW ORLEANS—An eight-member jury was seated today for the retrial of a federal lawsuit over whether Vioxx caused the death of a Florida man and if the pain killer’s manufacturer, Merck & Co., hid the drug’s dangers. 

Opening arguments were to begin this afternoon before the five-man, three woman jury. U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon told jury pool members that at least six people are required for a federal civil trial, and he was seating eight for this one a retrial of the first federal civil trial of a Vioxx lawsuit, which ended with a hung jury.

Fallon has told attorneys not to talk to reporters.

The first federal trial was held in Houston in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Once again, jurors will be asked to decide whether Vioxx caused the death of Richard “Dicky” Irvin, who took the drug for about a month before suffering a fatal heart attack.

Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market in September 2004 after a study showed it doubled patients’ risk of heart attack and strokes after 18 months of use. The company contends that no risk has been proved for shorter periods; attorneys for Irvin’s widow, Evelyn Irvin Plunkett, say they can prove that wrong.

Around 9,650 Vioxx lawsuits have been filed against Merck. Aside from the hung jury, Merck has won one case and lost another. An additional case is going on in state court in Texas.

The court had sent out notices to 200 potential jurors. With 61 of them reporting to Fallon’s courtroom, all available jury pool seats were filled.

Those dismissed included a man who said he couldn’t give video testimony the same weight as testimony in person. “I don’t trust people to start with, and I’ve been told all my life, ‘Don’t trust anything you see on TV.’”

The question whether prescription drug companies do a good job of monitoring safety of drugs once they are on the market prompted a diatribe from one man. “They don’t care what happens once they’re on the market,” he said. “You can have a judgment here, one there. The company still makes billions of dollars. They don’t care.”

Merck shares were down 53 cents to $33.86 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.



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