Merck & Co. was hit with two major legal setbacks over the withdrawn painkiller Vioxx on Thursday when a federal jury in New Orleans ordered the drugmaker to pay $51 million to a heart attack victim, and a state judge in New Jersey overturned a November verdict favoring the company.
In New Orleans, the jury found that Merck “knowingly misrepresented or failed to disclose” information about Vioxx to retired FBI agent Gerald Barnett’s doctors. It said Barnett, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., should get $50 million in compensatory damages. And it added $1 million in punitive damages, saying Merck “acted in wanton, malicious, willful or reckless disregard for the plaintiff’s rights.”
According to a law.com article, in New Jersey, state Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee ruled evidence uncovered since the November verdict showed that Merck withheld information showing heart attacks could come with use of Vioxx for less than 18 months, said a local attorney.
Merck said it would appeal the New Orleans verdict and was considering its options in the New Jersey case.
The lawsuits are among more than 16,000 Vioxx-related suits against Merck in state and federal courts.
David Logan, dean of Roger Williams University School of Law in Bristol, R.I., said the New Orleans verdict would put pressure on Merck to consider settling cases.
“How long can Merck carry the cost of these verdicts?” Logan asked. “None of these cases are coming back small.”
He said the cost of litigation and the management time devoted to overseeing the Vioxx cases remove resources that Merck should be spending on developing new products. “This is a drag on Merck going forward,” he said. “It is an enormous tax on the company moving forward.”