Merck Slapped with $47 Million Verdict in Vioxx Case

On Monday, pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. was ordered to pay $47.5 million in damages after a New Jersey jury decided that the company’s Vioxx medication was responsible for an Idaho man’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 Merck’s actions were “willful and reckless.”

“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,” said plaintiff attorney Christopher Seeger in a statement. “The jury recognized the very serious heart risks of Vioxx, risks that Merck went to great lengths to conceal from doctors and the public.”

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 plaintiff’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.

Today’s verdict concluded the second phase of Humeston’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 man’s heart attack, and they also claimed that Humeston’s physician may have chosen alternative treatment had proper warnings about the drug been issued. Humeston’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.

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