A Texas jury held Merck liable in the first lawsuit against the company over its former blockbuster pain drug Vioxx.
The jury awarded plaintiff Carol Ernst more than $250 million in total damages in connection with the death of her husband Robert Ernst, 59, who took Vioxx for eight months prior to his death.
The jury awarded Ernst’s wife a $24 million penalty for mental anguish and loss of companionship and $229 million in punitive damages, according to a report from CNN/Money.com
Shortly after the jury announced their decision, Merck released a statement saying it would appeal the verdict.
“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 of Fulbright & Jaworski, a member of Merck’s defense team. “This case did not call for punitive damages,” added Skidmore. “Merck acted responsibly – from researching Vioxx prior to approval in clinical trials involving almost 10,000 patients, to monitoring the medicine while it was on the market, to voluntarily withdrawing the medicine when it did.”
Merck goes on trial again in Atlantic City next month. The plaintiff’s lawyer in that trial, Chris Seeger, said the case of his client, Michael Humeston, was much more clear than that of Ernst. Humeston, Seeger said, had suffered a documented heart attack and had presented at the hospital with clear arteries.
“This is where we feel he has a good case and a specific causation,” said Seeger. “And when it comes to the bad company part of the [Ernst] case which caused the jury to go for that award it’s the same case.”