Tort Law

From $253M to $0: Reduced $26M Vioxx Verdict Overturned by Texas Appeals Court

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A Texas appellate court today has overturned a verdict against Merck & Co. concerning its popular Vioxx painkiller, eliminating the $26 million judgment that remained after a previous $253 million verdict was cut due to a state punitive damages cap.

Meanwhile, an appeals court in New Jersey today has reduced another Vioxx verdict against the pharmaceutical company, cutting a $13.9 million jury award to $4.9 million, the Associated Press reported.

The $26 million verdict was eliminated because the Texas court found the evidence didn’t establish a clear link between the drug and Robert Ernst’s fatal heart problem allegedly caused by a Vioxx-induced blood clot, the news agency says.

In New Jersey, the court axed a $9 million punitive damages award and a state consumer fraud count, finding that it was pre-empted by the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The plaintiff in that case survived a heart attack.

Bruce Kuhlik, the company’s general counsel, says in a press release that Merck intends to pursue the New Jersey case further. The appeals court “correctly reversed the awards of punitive damage and consumer fraud,” he states. “We intend to seek further review of the portion of the award that remains standing after the New Jersey decision. We continue to believe Merck acted responsibly.”

Meanwhile, attorney Ellen Relkin, who represents plaintiff John McDarby, says they are delighted about the New Jersey appeals court’s “robust affirmance” of a $4.5 million compensatory verdict, and will consider appealing the reversal of the $9 million punitive damages award.

“The New Jersey decision underscores the danger of federal pre-emption—created by unelected regulators without the authority of Congress—which allows corporations to receive complete immunity and escape accountability even when they knowingly injure and endanger consumers with unsafe products,” says Kathleen Flynn Peterson, president of the American Association for Justice trial lawyers’ group, in a press release. “Federal pre-emption allowed the court to ignore the verdict of a jury which heard all the evidence firsthand.”

Vioxx was withdrawn from the market following claims that it caused heart problems and strokes.

Updated at 2:39 p.m. to correct the New Jersey settlement amount.

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