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Federal jury awards $50 million in Vioxx negligence lawsuit

[JURIST] A federal jury in New Orleans on Thursday found Merck [corporate website] negligent for failing to warn doctors about the risks associated with taking the painkiller Vioxx [Merck Vioxx Information Center website; JURIST news archive] and found that Merck knowingly misrepresented the risks involved. The verdict comes in the case of retired FBI agent Gerald Barnett who blamed Vioxx for his 2002 heart attack after taking Vioxx for nearly 3 years. The jury awarded $50 million in compensatory damages, but is still deliberating on a possible figure for punitive damages. The Barnett verdict becomes the ninth Vioxx trial to reach a verdict out of more than 16,000 pending lawsuits.

Merck has now won five cases and lost four cases, after a California state jury cleared Merck [JURIST report] of any liability in the heart attack of a 71-year old woman earlier this month. In July, a New Jersey jury found Merck not liable [JURIST report] for a woman's heart attack and that the company did not fail to warn the woman of the heart risks involved with the painkiller. In April, 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. A different Texas jury also awarded the family of a 71-year old man who died from a heart attack $32 million [JURIST report] - $7 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages - in April. 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 has set aside $1 billion to fight every Vioxx court challenge. Reuters has more. AP has additional coverage.

7:05 PM ET - In a second defeat Thursday, a New Jersey judge vacated the verdict [JURIST report] in one of Merck's victories at trial. Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee vacated the verdict finding Merck not liable for Frederick Humeston's heart attack after taking Vioxx for less than 18 months. The plaintiff's lawyers presented new evidence showing that Merck withheld evidence during the trial that demonstrated that the pharmaceutical company knew that Vioxx posed an increased risk of heart attacks even when taken for less than 18 months and Higbee ordered a new trial in the case.

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