Merck & Co. must pay more than $253 million to the family of a Texas man who died after taking the company’s Vioxx painkiller, a jury ruled in the first personal-injury case over the drug to come to trial.
Jurors deliberated more than 10 hours in Angleton, Texas, before awarding $24.4 million in actual damages and $229 million in punitive damages to the family of Robert Ernst. Shares of Merck, the third-largest U.S. drugmaker, fell to a six-month low, erasing $5.2 billion from the company’s market value.
“It certainly will encourage more people to sue,” Les Funtleyder, a health strategist at Miller Tabak & Co., said in a telephone interview. “This is going to be a decade-long process. It’s probably going to make Merck reserve more money.”
The Ernst family’s lawyers argued that Merck rushed Vioxx to market without proper safety testing to compete with Pfizer Inc.’s Celebrex, then played down potential heart risks. Ernst, a 59-year-old marathoner and personal trainer, died in his sleep in 2001 after taking the drug for eight months for tendinitis. His autopsy blamed an irregular heartbeat.