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Merck Liable for Vioxx

A state jury has found Merck & Co. liable for one of two former Vioxx users' heart attacks and ordered he receive $4.5 million in damages in a closely watched trial involving two New Jersey men.

The jury found the company failed to adequately warn both plaintiffs about the risk factors linking the now-withdrawn painkiller to heart attacks and strokes, but said the drug was only a factor in one of the men's illnesses.

The panel said the company concealed the risks of the drug for both men, but ruled that only John McDarby, 77, a retired insurance agent from Park Ridge, should receive compensation.

The verdict came after less than two days of deliberations by a six-woman, two-man jury.

The trial was the first dealing with plaintiffs who blamed illnesses on long-term use of the painkiller.

Merck shares plunged in after-hours trading Wednesday evening, falling $1.39, or 3.9 percent, to $34.60 on the New York Stock Exchange. Shares had risen 51 cents, or 1.4 percent, in regular trading after Merck a day earlier raised its forecast for first-quarter profit about 15 percent to 61 to 67 cents per share.

A spokesman for Merck, Chuck Harrell, called the split verdict a "disappointment" but said "the jury has spoken."

McDarby, a diabetic who took Vioxx for four years, suffered his heart attack in his living room and broke his hip as a result, triggering a sudden slide that has left him using a wheelchair and unable to care for himself, according to his lawyers.

The trial also included the case of Thomas Cona, a 60-year-old businessman from Cherry Hill who was stricken one day on a golf course after what he said was nearly two years of use. The jury said he should receive $45 to compensate him for the cost of his medication. Cona declined comment after the verdict.

McDarby was awarded $3 million for pain and suffering and his wife was awarded $1.5 million. He did not immediately comment after the verdict.

The jury was expected to return to court Thursday to decide whether the company will face punitive damages. Jurors were told by the judge not to comment until after the entire trial ends.

Compensatory damages are given to cover a plaintiff's actual financial losses, such as medical treatment costs and lost income. Punitive damages penalize a defendant for bad conduct.

April 5, 2006 in Vioxx | Permalink

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