The potential postponement this week of the first trial against Merck over its withdrawn painkiller Vioxx could be unfavourable for the US drugmaker, as plaintiffs’ attorneys push a stronger case.
An Alabama state judge is scheduled to hold a hearing on Tuesday on whether to postpone the trial originally scheduled for May 23. Both Merck and the plaintiff asked for the postponement, after a federal judge requested it.
Thousands of people have sued Merck, saying they suffered heart attacks and strokes after taking Vioxx, an arthritis reliever and painkiller that Merck introduced in 1999 and stopped selling last year.
Merck has said it plans to defend every case, and has set aside $675 million to cover its legal costs. Paying claims, if any, could cost the company many billions more, analysts say.
The Vioxx cases are in the pretrial discovery phase, an arduous process. During discovery, Merck must provide millions of potentially relevant documents to plaintiffs, while plaintiffs must provide written information about their cases to Merck.
At the same time, lawyers for both sides interview people, under oath, who they think may have relevant information.