Jury finds negligence with Merck with regard to Vioxx
In the historic first lawsuit involving Merck and the drug Vioxx the jury has found neglect regarding the risks of Vioxx. This case could have profound effects on thousands of other cases files against the drug giant.
Carol Ernst filed a lawsuit against Merck, when she discovered that it was the pain medication Vioxx that has killed her husband Robert Ernst, a 59-year-old marathon runner and Wal-Mart worker who was taking the arthritis painkiller at the time of his death. Ernst died of a heart attack. She won the lawsuit in Texas Superior Court in Angleton, which blames Vioxx for the verdict held Merck liable for the death. Jurors voted 10-2 in favor of Ernst.
As per the verdict Carol Ernst will be awarded more than $250 million in total damages -- $24 million to Carol Ernst for mental anguish and loss of companionship, and $229 million in punitive damages. Mark Lanier, Carol's lawyer said the punitive-damages figure was based on "the money Merck made and saved by putting off their product label changes."
This amount is likely to be reduced to about $26 million under Texas damage caps
"Justice is a beautiful thing, isn't it?" Lanier told reporters following the verdict.
Merck said it has decided to appeal the decision. "We believe that the plaintiff did not meet the standard set by Texas law to prove Vioxx caused Mr. Ernst's death," said Jonathan Skidmore, a member of Merck's legal defense team, according to a statement released by Merck.
It is possible that Merck's appeal could delay a resolution for several years, and will likely reduce the financial damages to the company significantly, but the major problem for Merck would be increasing number of lawsuits based on this victory. "The squeeze is coming, with this number of cases and these types of awards, the stability of the company is at risk" as per analysts.
Lanier took the argument that Merck had concealed information about the health risks associated with the drug in order to protect sales. Carol Ernst, who had divorced her first husband in the early 1980s and raised four children as a single mother, delivered emotional testimony about the death of her second husband, Robert, and said she was taking antidepressants to cope with the loss. Merck's defense team had insisted that Vioxx did not cause Ernst's death, asserting that arrhythmia had not been linked Vioxx in studies.
Vioxx was recently withdrawn from the market in the United States when a clinical trial sponsored by Merck showed increased risk of heart attack and stroke associated intake of Vioxx for more than 18 months. It is estimated that more than 20 million people took Vioxx in the United States before the drug was withdrawn in September 2004.