NEW ORLEANS -- Merck & Co. was stung with two Vioxx setbacks yesterday, calling into question the drug maker's strategy of taking on litigation over the painkiller one case at a time.
A New Orleans jury decided Merck failed to notify doctors of Vioxx's risks and awarded $51 million to an ex-FBI agent who had a heart attack. A New Jersey judge threw out a prior Merck victory, saying the company held back evidence, and ordered a new trial.
Merck's shares plunged 5.7 percent. Investors, who had been buoyed by victories, wondered if liability for the drug, which is no longer sold, would force the company to settle rather than fight. ``How long can Merck carry the cost of these verdicts?" asked David Logan, dean of Roger Williams University School of Law. ``None of these cases are coming back small."
``I'm sure someone is revisiting the strategy," said Michael P. Kelly, a trial attorney in Wilmington, Del. He said juries in New Orleans, where four more Vioxx trials are scheduled, have a reputation for giving big awards. But Ted Mayer, of Merck's defense team, said the company still intends to try every case.