Judge limits damages in Texas Vioxx case, lawyers unveil ‘trial in a box’

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A Texas judge sided with Merck on Wednesday, denying a motion that could have opened the door to a larger damage award in a lawsuit charging that Vioxx caused the death of a 71-year-old man, Reuters reported. Texas state district judge Alex Gabert refused a plaintiff’s request to ask jurors to decide during deliberations whether Merck had criminally caused the death of an elderly person. Gabert’s decision means Merck, under Texas law, will face a maximum of $750,000 for punitive damages. A ruling the other way would have taken off all limits. Meanwhile, a steering committee of Vioxx plaintiffs’ attorneys has put together a pre-made trial package that can be used for a Vioxx case against Merck, The Wall Street Journal reported. The package is free but attorneys must pay a contingency fee of 3% or 6% of any rewards or settlements to the lawyers who assembled the package. The arrangement applies to all federally filed cases. Using the package can bring the out-of-pocket cost of putting on a trial down to about $50,000—a small enough sum to open the floodgates for law firms of all sizes to take a swing at Merck. The package lays out a road map for a Vioxx case and includes what attorneys say are the most damaging documents from Merck, video testimony of key players and prepared graphics to present in the courtroom. “It won’t exactly be paint-by-numbers, but that’s the basic concept we have in mind,” Thomas Kline, a key plaintiff’s attorney in the Vioxx litigation who helped develop the package, told the Journal. So far, approximately 200 firms have signed a contract to obtain the package. Merck told the newspaper it is not threatened by plaintiff’s attempts to standardize the cases. “It’s part of the standard plaintiff’s playbook to try and create a cookie-cutter case, but these cases are about the science, which is complex, and the individual facts in each case,” said Ted Mayer, co-lead outside defense counsel for Merck. “We’re ready to try these cases. We’ve said that and we’ve proved that.”
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