Mistrial declared in Calif. Vioxx lawsuits after jurors deadlock

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LOS ANGELES (AP) – A hung jury forced a mistrial Thursday in lawsuits by two men who blamed their heart attacks on Vioxx, the once-popular painkiller made by pharmaceutical company Merck & Co.

The two cases were tried together before a Superior Court jury that deadlocked 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’ physicians would have recognized the potential risks or side-effects.

The first two answers were rendered moot when Judge Victoria G. Chaney declared a mistrial.

The jury had sent a note to the court saying it was having trouble with the third question and lawyers were allowed to reargue that point. The jury then went back for more talks, but ultimately said there was an impasse.

It wasn’t clear when there might be a retrial of the lawsuits brought by Lawrence Appell, of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Rudolph Arrigale, of Westminster, Calif.

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 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.

The trial began Oct. 31. In closing arguments Dec. 19, attorneys for the two plaintiffs argued their clients’ heart injuries were caused by Vioxx.

Merck, headquartered in Whitehouse Station, N.J., 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 from using the painkiller.

Merck removed Vioxx from the market two years ago after its research showed the drug doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

California’s first Vioxx liability case also went to trial before Chaney. It ended in August, with jurors finding Merck was not liable for the heart problems of a California man.

As of Nov. 30, the company faced 27,200 lawsuits over Vioxx and another 265 potential class-action suits.

Six lawsuits are set for trial between now and June, with the next scheduled to begin in New Jersey.

Excluding the Appell and Arrigale suits, 18 cases have been scheduled for trial over Vioxx to date. Juries have ruled for Merck nine times, although a state judge ultimately set aside one of the verdicts, the company said.

Four of the cases have been won by plaintiffs, but a federal judge overturned the damage award in one of them.

Another five cases have been dismissed, according to the company.

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