Vioxx trial: Potential jurors asked about Oprah, talk radio and big corporations

Steve Gonzalez Feb. 21, 2007, 5:01am

Do you watch Dr. Phil or Oprah? Have you ever had a bumper sticker on your car? Do you think all big corporations are evil?

Your honest answer may or may not earn you a front row seat in a Madison County courtroom as the Metro-East's first Vioxx trial gets under way.

Those are some of the questions in a 22-page inquisition handed out to potential jurors on Tuesday morning.

Circuit Judge Daniel J. Stack impaneled 112 jurors in an effort to find 12 jurors and three alternates to hear evidence in a case expected to last at least five weeks.

Plaintiff Frank Schwaller, who was in court Tuesday morning, filed suit in 2005, alleging that Vioxx caused or significantly contributed to the death of his 52-year-old wife who died suddenly from a heart attack after using Vioxx.

Vioxx was pulled from the market in September 2004 because studies indicated it could contribute to heart ailments. Since then it has been targeted in more than 25,000 lawsuits across the country.

Schwaller claims Vioxx was defectively designed, inadequately tested, dangerous to human health, and lacked proper warnings, which subjected users to risks of heart attacks, strokes and other illnesses.

He is represented by John Driscoll and Andy Crouppen of Brown & Crouppen in St. Louis. They will have help from Andy D. Birchfield, Jr., and Patricia Leigh O'Dell of Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles in Montgomery, Ala.

Merck, which denies all the allegations, is represented by Dan Ball and Steve Strauss of Bryan Cave of St. Louis. George Tsougarakis of Hughes, Hubbard & Reed in New York will also represent Merck.

The first question Stack asked the assembled jurors was if they had a pending case in Madison County.

Only one, juror number 40, was excused because he has a case pending since 2002.

Two jurors were members of a putative class, but Stack allowed them to stay since their cases have not been certified as class actions yet.

Stack also excused seven jurors for medical problems and other hardships that would prevent them from attending a five-week trial.

Two were excused due to hearing problems, one was nine months pregnant; one had a bad back and needed to rotate standing and sitting; one had a daughter with breast cancer and the other two were excused for other medical conditions.

Stack asked jurors if there were any other reasons, such as financial hardship, that would keep individulas from attending a five-week trial. Over half the jurors raised their hands.

Most of those who were excused claimed financial hardship for missing work for an extended period.

A special education high school teacher was excused because his wife worked at Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit management group that serves more than 50 million people.

Another juror remained in the pool after revealing his wife used Vioxx for some time.

"Can you be fair?" Stack asked juror number 29.

"You want me to tell you what I think about the drug?" the juror responded.

Stack cut the juror off and explained that he just wanted to know if he could be fair to both sides. The juror said that he could.

A total of 39 jurors were eventually excused leaving 73 jurors to fill out the questionnaire.

Lawyers from both sides prepared and agreed to the questions asked.

"The questions on this form are designed to help the court and the lawyers learn something about your background and your views on issues related to this case," the questionnaire states.

"The questions are not asked to invade your privacy, but to make sure that you can be a fair and impartial juror."

The first few pages were background questions regarding education, places of employment and health and family histories.

Daytime television viewing and talk radio listening habits, as well as campaigns for political office were raised.

Another question asked the potential juror if he/she was fearful about being poisoned by harmful chemicals in their food and if they went to the doctor when feeling ill.

Other questions were about prescription medications and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"Do you believe a prescription drug should be proven 100% safe before being sold to the public?" question 47 asked.

And another, "Would you have to be 100% certain that a drug had caused a person's heart attack before you could hold the drug manufacturer responsible for that person's heart attack?"

Jurors were also asked if they knew any witnesses that could testify at the trial or any lawyers participating in the case.

The 73 remaining jurors have the rest of the week off.

Voir Dire will begin on Feb. 26.

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Organizations in this Story

Express Scripts
1 Express Way
St Louis, MO 63121

Bryan Cave
1 Metropolitan Square
St. Louis, MO 63102

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