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Vioxx jury awards overturned on appeal in Texas, New Jersey

[JURIST] A Texas state appeals court Thursday overturned [press release] a jury verdict against pharmaceutical giant Merck [corporate website] concerning a death allegedly caused by painkiller Vioxx [Merck materials; JURIST news archive]. The Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals reversed [opinion] a verdict which had awarded $26 million to widow Carol Ernst, who alleged that her husband died after taking Vioxx [JURIST report] for arthritis in 2001. The appellate panel acknowledged that Vioxx can increase the risk of blood clots and heart attacks, but found that Ernst failed to show that her husband's heart attack was triggered by a blood clot caused by Vioxx.

Also Thursday, the New Jersey Appellate Division reduced [opinion, PDF] a jury award in a separate consolidated Vioxx lawsuit [JURIST report], finding that the plaintiffs were not entitled to punitive damages. The jury had found that Merck did not warn either of two men of potential dangers of heart attack and stroke [FDA public health advisory] associated with use of the drug. Finding that the drug significantly impacted 77-year-old John McDarby, who suffered a heart attack and deteriorating health from taking Vioxx, a jury had awarded him $3 million and his wife $1.5 million; a week later, another jury awarded him $9 million in punitive damages [JURIST report]. The appeals court upheld the verdict of $4.5 million in compensatory damages for McDarby, but struck down the punitive damage award. A plaintiff's lawyer involved in both cases announced plans to appeal [PRNewswire report]. The New York Times has more.

Merck has been involved in a stream of Vioxx-related litigation during the last few years, including state and federal lawsuits in Louisiana, California, and additional suits in New Jersey and Texas [JURIST reports]. In September 2007, the New Jersey Supreme Court dismissed [JURIST report] a class action lawsuit filed against Merck, reversing a lower court's decision to grant nationwide class certification in the case. In November 2007, Merck said that it had agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle all pending lawsuits [press release; JURIST report] regarding its marketing and distribution of Vioxx.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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