Merck has been held liable by a Texas jury in the first lawsuit involving its former blockbuster drug Vioxx, in a case that could have a profound effect on thousands of other cases filed against the company.
Plaintiff Carol Ernst has won her lawsuit in Texas Superior Court in Angleton, which blames Vioxx for the 2001 death of 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.
The verdict held Merck liable for the death. Jurors voted 10-2 in favor of Ernst.
The jury 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. Ernst’s Houston-based lawyer, Mark Lanier, said the punitive-damages figure was based on “the money Merck made and saved by putting off their product label changes.”
Lanier had been seeking $40.4 million in damages, and after the verdict, Lanier said that he expected the punitive-damages award to be reduced according to Texas law.
“Justice is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?” Lanier told reporters following the verdict.
Merck said it would 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.