[JURIST] A Texas state jury on Friday found Merck [corporate website] liable for the death of a 71-year-old man who died from a heart attack within a month of taking Merck's painkiller Vioxx [Merck Vioxx Information Center website; JURIST news archive], in the sixth Vioxx case to reach a verdict. The jury ordered Merck to pay $32 million in damages to the family of Leonel Garza - $7 million in non-economic compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages - but the damages award will likely be reduced to correspond with state limits. The Texas trial commenced [JURIST report] at the end of January. Merck plans to appeal on the grounds that there is no proven link between heart problems and the use of Vioxx for less than 18 months. Merck pulled the drug from the market in September 2004 after a study showed that it could double the risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for more than 18 months. Merck's attorneys doubt that Garza took the drug for more than a week before his heart attack. Plaintiff's attorneys in Garza's case and other cases contend that Merck was aware of the dangers of Vioxx by 2000, but continued to sell it because of its profitability.
Merck has now won three Vioxx cases and lost three Vioxx cases, with over 11,000 lawsuits pending. Earlier this month, a New Jersey state court jury awarded $9 million [JURIST report] in punitive damages and $4.5 million in compensatory damages to the family of a 77-year-old heart attack victim. Another Texas jury found Merck liable last year for the death of a 59 year-old marathon runner who had taken the drug for eight months, awarding $253 million [JURIST report]; that award was reduced to $26 million under Texas punitive damages caps. AP has more.