HOUSTON – The mistrial in the first federal trial over Merck & Co.'s (MRK) painkiller Vioxx was caused by a lone holdout on the jury who believed the company was at fault in the death of a Florida man, the Houston Chronicle reported on Tuesday.
The U.S. judge hearing the case declared a mistrial on Monday after the nine-member jury said they could not reach a unanimous verdict in the case, which will be retried next year.
Eight jurors agreed with Merck's argument that the New Jersey drug maker was not at fault in the death of 53-year-old Richard "Dicky" Irvin Jr., a manager at a seafood distributor, who took the drug for less than a month for back pain.
But one juror, who requested anonymity, agreed with Irvin's widow and told the newspaper that plaintiffs' lawyers "have hard time getting a fair trial" in Houston.
U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon's office was not immediately available to confirm the jury split.
Lawyers in the case said Judge Fallon has told them they were not to contact the jurors involved in the mistrial.
Merck faces more than 7,000 lawsuits claiming that for years it hid the risks of heart attack and stroke linked to its blockbuster drug. Analysts have said the company's legal costs to fight the cases could total several billion dollars.
The mistrial was viewed as a negative for Merck because the plaintiff's case was seen as weak and the federal courts tend to favor institutional defendants such as big companies.
The withdrawal of Vioxx, which was ultimately taken by more than 20 million people and generated more than $2.5 billion in sales for Merck in 2004, contributed to a $25 billion decline in the company's market capitalization.