NEW ORLEANS – Drug manufacturer Merck and Company is preparing to do battle again over lawsuit claims involving the painkiller Vioxx.

This time, a retired F-B-I agent, Gerald Barnett, is pushing the case, saying in his lawsuit that Merck hid information about the drug. Potential jurors are being summoned for today’s opening of this, the second federal trial on subject matter that has resulted in more than 16-thousand suits so far in various state and federal courts.

U-S District Judge Eldon E- Fallon is presiding. The New Orleans trial is expected to take about two weeks. Fallon was selected last year to coordinate proceedings in hundreds of Vioxx cases filed in federal court around the country.

In seven state or federal trials so far, the company has lost three.

Barnett had taken Vioxx for two years and eight months when he had a heart attack in August 2002. He was 58, and needed a five-way bypass operation.

The company pulled the drug from the market after a study showed that it could double the risk of heart attacks.

Barnett’s trial had been set to start a week ago, but it was postponed so Barnett could have surgery to unclog an artery that had been open in 2002.

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