Merck Asks for Mistrial in N.J. Vioxx Case

Lawyers for Vioxx (search) maker Merck & Co Inc. (MRK) on Wednesday asked a judge to declare a mistrial or strike the testimony of a statistician who they contend violated a court ruling about what could be discussed about the drug.

Dr. Richard Kronmal (search), a statistician who testified as an expert witness for plaintiff Frederick Humeston, "unambiguously violated this court's ruling that Merck's voluntary withdrawal of Vioxx from the market is not to be discussed," the lawyers said in a statement.

Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee did not immediately rule on Merck's request.

Merck lawyers attacked Kronmal's assertions in his testimony last week that Vioxx increases the risk not only of myocardial infarction, or heart attack, but also of Alzheimer's disease (search).

Those statements were "irrelevant and inflammatory," the Merck lawyers said,

Humeston, an Idaho postal worker, blames the once popular painkiller for his 2001 heart attack. He said Merck hid Vioxx's risks in an effort to preserve its blockbuster sales.

Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market last year after studies showed an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes after long-term use.

The company says Humeston only took the drug intermittently for about 2 months, and his age, weight and other medical factors led to his heart attack, not Vioxx.

The Atlantic City trial is now in its third week.

The lawsuit is the second Vioxx case to go to trial. In the first, a Texas jury last month ordered Merck to pay the widow of a Vioxx user $253 million, an amount expected to be reduced to about $26 million because of state caps on damage awards.