U.S. News

Deadlock Jury Results in Mistrial for Vioxx Lawsuits


A hung jury forced a mistrial in lawsuits by two men who blamed their heart attacks on Vioxx, the once-popular painkiller made by pharmaceutical company Merck.

Merck removed Vioxx from the market two years ago after its research showed the drug doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes. As of Nov. 30, the company faced 27,200 lawsuits over Vioxx and another 265 potential class-action suits.

The two California cases were tried together before a jury that deadlocked Thursday when they reached the third question on a lengthy verdict form.

The jury did answer "yes" to the first two questions, finding that Vioxx did have potential risks or side-effects that were known or knowable and that they presented a substantial danger to users of Vioxx. The third question asked if the plaintiffs' doctors would have recognized the potential risks or side-effects.

The first two answers were rendered moot when Judge Victoria G. Chaney declared a mistrial Thursday. It was not clear when there might be a retrial of the lawsuits brought by Lawrence Appell and Rudolph Arrigale. It's disappointing not to get a conclusion now," Appell said.

Thomas Yoo, a spokesman for Merck's legal team, said, "We're disappointed that the jury was not able to reach a verdict. If either of these plaintiffs wants to come back we'll be ready." Appell's attorney, Brian Panish, and Arrigale's attorney, Thomas J. Brandi, both said they would seek another trial.

None of the jurors agreed to take questions from reporters immediately after the court hearing, but they did meet with lawyers from both sides for several minutes.

Panish said some jurors believed the plaintiffs' doctors may have known about the risks of Vioxx when they prescribed the drug to their patients -- in particular, Appell's doctor, who had served as a clinical investigator for Merck.

Appell and Arrigale claimed that Vioxx was a substantial factor in their heart problems. They also claimed Merck failed to give sufficient warning of potential safety hazards of the drug.

Arrigale sought to recover more than $177,000 in medical costs as well as additional compensatory and punitive damages.

Appell sought compensatory damages on behalf of himself and his wife, plus punitive damages and more than $105,000 to cover medical expenses.

Merck, headquartered in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, argued that the two men's heart problems were caused by pre-existing coronary heart disease, not Vioxx.

Merck attorney Stephen D. Raber also told jurors that the pharmaceutical giant had not failed to properly warn doctors of possible complications.