Jury Selection In First Vioxx Case

GENERIC Merck Vioxx trial gavel
AP / ABC News
Merck & Co. has vowed to defend itself against more than 3,800 pending state and federal lawsuits alleging it knew its popular painkiller, Vioxx, could be dangerous long before the company voluntarily pulled it from the market last year.

The New Jersey drug maker's first chance to do so begins with jury selection set for Monday in a small-town Texas courtroom 30 miles south of Houston.

"We intend to defend these cases individually over many years," Merck's general counsel, Kenneth C. Frazier, said in a statement. The company's most recent lawsuit count reached 3,857.

"Merck acted responsibly, from researching Vioxx prior to approval in clinical trials involving almost 10,000 patients to monitoring the medicine while it was on the market to voluntarily withdrawing the medicine when it did," Frazier said.

Thousands of plaintiffs seeking potentially billions of dollars in damages allege otherwise. They include Carol Ernst, whose husband, Robert, died in his sleep in May 2001 after taking Vioxx for about eight months to ease pain in his hands.