No. 3 for Merck under way in Houston

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The first federal Vioxx case is under way this week in Houston, the third trial for beleaguered drug maker Merck regarding the COX-2 inhibitor.
In the suit, Evelyn Irvin Plunkett charges Vioxx led to the heart attack and death in 2001 of her husband, Richard "Dicky" Irwin. Irwin took the drug for less than a month for back and hip pain.
Yesterday Irvin's two grown children testified that their father was healthy, active and showed no signs of heart problems before his death. A pathologist, who also testified on behalf of the plaintiff, said Vioxx played a contributing role in Irvin's death.
The jury of five men and four women was selected Monday, and jurors heard opening statements that same afternoon from plaintiff's attorney Andy Birchfield and Merck attorney Phillip Beck.
The trial was relocated to Houston from Louisiana due to hurricane damage.
The Whitehouse Station, N.J., firm withdrew Vioxx last year after a study linked the drug to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in patients taking it for 18 months or longer.
Merck lost the first state case to go to trial in September when a Texas jury awarded $253.4 million to the widow of a man who died after taking Vioxx. That amount will likely be reduced to $26 million. Last month Merck won a case in New Jersey state court.

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