[JURIST] The first federal Vioxx trial, in which Evelyn Irvin Plunkett is suing pharmaceutical giant Merck [corporate website] for the death of husband Richard Dicky Irvin of a heart attack in May 2001, began Tuesday with an opening statement from Plunketts lawyer, who told jurors that Irvin died as a direct result of taking the painkiller Vioxx [JURIST news archive] for about a month and that Merck knew about the cardiovascular risks of the drug when it placed it on the market in 1999. Since a long-term study identified that taking Vioxx for eighteen months or longer doubled the risk of heart attack or stroke, experts expect Merck to argue that Irvin did not take the drug for a long enough period of time to cause health problems. Merck is also expected to argue that Plunkett is not entitled to damages since she and Irvin were separated at the time of his death and because Irvin got a prescription for the drug from his physician son-in-law without a medical exam. US District Judge Eldon Fallon of the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website], who is overseeing pretrial matters for all federal Vioxx trials [multi-district litigation website], is presiding over the case in Houston [JURIST report] because of Hurricane Katrina. Merck faces roughly 7,000 state and federal lawsuits; so far it has won one state decision in New Jersey [JURIST report] and lost one in Texas [JURIST report]. AP has more.