With Merck & Co. now 1-and-1 in state lawsuits over its Vioxx painkiller, the world’s No. 5 drug maker may face higher stakes later this month in the first federal trial of charges that it knowingly rushed a potentially lethal drug to market to pocket billions in profits.
“They have a fresh crack at it in a court that is a very important court,” said Benjamin Zipursky, a professor at Fordham Law School in New York. “For Merck, reputationally, investors will look at what happens in federal courts as a signal of the strength of the goods on Merck.” The federal Vioxx trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 29 in Houston, just 40 miles north of the state court where Texas jurors last August slapped Merck with a $253 million verdict in the first Vioxx trial in the nation. Texas caps on punitive damages will cut that amount to no more than $26.1 million.
On Thursday, the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck had a win in a New Jersey state court when a jury absolved it of liability, finding that the company disclosed proper warnings about Vioxx risks.