SAN PEDRO, Calif., Sept. 19, 2006 – LAWFUEL – Legal News Network – When a federal judge threw out a $50-million jury award against Merck & Co., calling it excessive for a former FBI agent who had suffered a heart attack while using the drug maker’s Vioxx painkiller, the news was met with mixed feelings for the 16,000 Vioxx users that have filed suits against Merck.
On August 17, 2006 a federal jury in New Orleans awarded $51 million to Gerald Barnett – a retired FBI agent who had a heart attack in 2002 after taking Vioxx for 55 months – after finding that Merck knowingly misrepresented or failed to disclose a material fact regarding Vioxx safety to the plaintiff’s physician.
In a written ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Eldon Fallon found that the jury’s findings on Merck’s liability were reasonable, but that the $50-million compensatory damage assessment was not.
Vioxx plaintiff’s can see positive news in the ruling in that the jury’s finding of Merck’s liability and is a positive development for everyone suing Merck for damages.
The ruling clearly establishes Merck’s liability and will strengthen future Vioxx cases that go to trial this month.
Many experts are predicting that Merck’s liability will reach 50 billion in damages.
Fallon ruled that a new trial on all damages was necessary, citing a previous case requiring reconsideration of both awards when compensatory damages are reviewed. The new trial will also reconsider the punitive damages award of $1 million in the case, although the federal judge did not take issue with that award.
Merck may see a surge in Vioxx lawsuits after an independent study found an increased risk of kidney-related complications and arrhythmia. The study was conducted by researchers at Harvard University and published online September 12, 2006 by The Journal of the American Medical Association.
A data analysis of 114 clinical trials involving more than 116,000 patients found that Merck’s withdrawn painkiller was associated with an increased risk of “renal events,” which include swelling of the hands and feet, high blood pressure and kidney dysfunction.
With the statutes of limitations expiring soon for many former patients this may prompt many to “pile on” the tens of thousands of Vioxx-related lawsuits already filed against Merck. Merck is the fourth largest drug manufacturer in the U.S. and has pledged to fight each of the nearly 16,000 cases filed against them individually, rather than as a class action.
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