Jury awards $9M in penalty phase of Vioxx trial

The punitive phase of the latest Vioxx liability trial ended with a jury awarding $9 million to a man who had a heart attack while taking the drug. The New Jersey jury found that Merck misled the FDA about the painkiller’s heart risks. The penalty adds to the $4.5 million in compensatory damages the jury awarded to plaintiff John McDarby in the first phase of the case, bringing the total to $13.5 million. Last week the jury determined McDarby’s heart attack was caused by Vioxx and that Merck did not properly warn of Vioxx’s cardiovascular risks. It also found that Merck violated the state’s consumer fraud law. The second phase focused on whether Merck withheld information about Vioxx’s safety risks, or misrepresented it, and what, if any, punitive damages the drug firm should pay. In a statement, Merck said it will appeal the punitive and compensatory verdicts. The two plaintiffs in the trial were the first to have allegedly taken Vioxx for longer than 18 months. The jury rejected the claim of the other plaintiff, Thomas Cona, that Vioxx caused his heart attack. It did not consider punitive damages for Cona. Merck has lost two trials and won two.