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Federal judge rejects $50 million Vioxx award as 'grossly excessive'

[JURIST] US District Judge Eldon E. Fallon of the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] on Wednesday threw out a jury verdict holding Merck [corporate website] liable for $50 million in compensatory damages [JURIST report] to a retired FBI agent who claimed Merck's painkiller Vioxx [Merck Vioxx Information Center website; JURIST news archive] caused his heart attack. Fallon called the jury award "grossly excessive" and ordered a new trial [PDF text] to determine damages for Gerald Barnett. The new trial will only consider the issue of damages, and under precedent from the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website], the new jury will also reconsider the $1 million punitive damages award. The original New Orleans jury found Merck negligent for failing to warn doctors about the risks associated with taking Vioxx and found that Merck knowingly misrepresented the risks involved, and Fallon did not overturn those findings.

The Barnett verdict was the ninth Vioxx trial to reach a verdict out of more than 16,000 pending lawsuits. AP has more.

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