liable for the death of a man who took the once-popular painkiller Vioxx, awarding his widow $US253.4 million ($A337 million) in damages.
The case, the first in what is expected to be a string of similar lawsuits from around the world, awarded the massive damages payout to Carol Ernst, whose 59-year-old triathlete husband Robert died in May 2001 from heart failure after using Vioxx to treat pain in his
Merck has been deluged with lawsuits from around the world since it withdrew
Vioxx from the market last September after an internal study showed it increased the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
The drug was taken by more than 20 million people worldwide before its
Merck swiftly said that it would appeal the jury’s verdict, which came
after more than a month of often emotional hearings in which lawyers for Mrs Ernst accused one of the world’s biggest drug firms of putting profits before safety.
“We believe that the plaintiff did not meet the standard set by Texas law
to prove Vioxx caused Mr Ernst’s death,” Jonathan Skidmore, a lawyer
representing the firm, said in a statement.
Another Merck attorney, Ted Mayer, said the company was confident that at
the very least, the damages would be slashed on appeal because of “irrelevant
and inflammatory evidence” allowed by Judge Ben Hardin.
The company’s share price plummeted on the news, losing nearly eight
percent to close at 28.06 dollars.
Carol Ernst expressed enormous relief at the verdict.
“In the four years that I knew and loved Bob, I went to a lot of his
marathons, his triathlons. This has been my run for Bob,” she told reporters in
Angleton, south of Houston.
“I know this was a run well worth doing and I’m glad we crossed the finishing line finally,” she said.