On Monday, pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. was ordered to pay $47.5 million in damages after a New Jersey jury decided that the companyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Vioxx medication was responsible for an Idaho manÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s heart attack. The jury awarded $20 million in compensatory damages to Frederick Humeston and his wife and then tacked on an additional $27.5 million in punitive damages after deciding unanimously that MerckÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s actions were Ã¢â‚¬Å“willful and reckless.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The verdict today finally achieves justice for Mr. Humeston and his family, who were among the many thousands of unsuspecting users of this very dangerous product,Ã¢â‚¬Â said plaintiff attorney Christopher Seeger in a statement. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The jury recognized the very serious heart risks of Vioxx, risks that Merck went to great lengths to conceal from doctors and the public.Ã¢â‚¬Â
In the first phase of the trial, jurors found that Merck not only violated consumer-fraud laws, but also failed to provide adequate warnings prior to the plaintiffÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Vioxx regimen. Humeston had lost his first trial against Merck. However, that previous verdict was tossed out and a retrial was ordered by Judge Carol Higbee after new evidence came to light.
TodayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s verdict concluded the second phase of HumestonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s trial, which was to determine whether or not the drug led directly to his heart attack, which he survived. Jurors decided that Vioxx was indeed responsible for the manÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s heart attack, and they also claimed that HumestonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s physician may have chosen alternative treatment had proper warnings about the drug been issued. HumestonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s heart attack occurred in September of 2001 before updated Vioxx product warnings appeared on the label. Therefore, jurors decided, the company was liable for both punitive and compensatory damages.