Merck Pays $4.85 Billion for Vioxx Settlement
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Merck & Co has agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle claims that its painkiller Vioxx caused heart attacks and strokes in thousands of users, the drugmaker said on Friday.
The agreement covers lawsuits filed against the company in U.S. courts, resolving a major legal battle that has dogged the drugmaker since it pulled Vioxx off the market three years ago.
Merck recalled the popular painkiller, which had $2.5 billion in annual sales, in September 2004 after a study showed it doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke in patients taking it for more than 18 months.
In the settlement, reached with representatives of plaintiffs in federal and state courts, Merck did not admit Vioxx caused patient injury and did not admit fault.
Merck Loses Vioxx Lawsuit
New Orleans jury ruled against Merck in the latest trial related to the pain reliever Vioxx. The jury ruled that Merck failed to warn doctors about the medical risks associated with the drug. The jury also ruled a that a patient who had a heart attack after taking the drug is entitled to 50 million dollars of compensatory damages.
The panel has not decided on punitive damages in the case. Merck pulled Vioxx off the market in 2004 after a study found the drug increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Merck Found Liable in Vioxx Death
A state jury found Merck & Co. liable Friday for the death of a 71-year-old man who had a fatal heart attack within a month of taking its since-withdrawn painkiller Vioxx and ordered the company to pay $32 million. Merck said it would appeal.
The damage award will likely be reduced because of state caps on such awards.
The jury of 10 men and two women deliberated for about seven hours over two days before returning the verdict in favor of the family of Leonel Garza.
The company was ordered to pay $7 million in non-economic compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages.
But the punitive damage amount is likely to be reduced since state law caps punitive damages at twice the amount of economic damages, lost pay, and up to $750,000 on top of non-economic damages, which are comprised of mental anguish and loss of companionship.
Because Garza was retired, the jury awarded no economic damages. That means the most Garza's family could receive under state law is $7.75 million.
"Merck will appeal," spokesman Kent Jarrel said.
The case was the sixth of 11,500 lawsuits to reach a verdict and brings Merck's scorecard in the trials to three wins and three losses.
In the prior two losses, the New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company was ordered to pay one plaintiff $253.4 million, which will be reduced to $26 million under Texas caps on punitive damages; and the other $13.5 million.
Attorneys for Garza said that while Garza had a history of heart problems, his veins had been cleared and a stress test showed less than a 2 percent risk of heart attack within a year. They said he had taken the drug for almost a month before he died in April of 2001.
Jury finds Merck liable for $32 million
A Texas jury has found Merck & Co. liable in the heart attack death of a Vioxx user on Friday, awarding his widow a total of $32 million in damages and marking the second straight loss for the company in the courtroom.
According to Merck spokeswoman Casey Stavropoulos, the state jury found that Merck should pay $7 million in compensatory and $25 million in punitive damages to the family of 71-year-old Leonel Garza, who died of a heart attack in April 2001.
Garza reportedly suffered the fatal heart attack after taking Vioxx for about a month.
According to Merck, Garza was an obese, lifelong smoker who had undergone quadruple coronary-bypass surgery in 1985 and had suffered an earlier heart attack in 1981. Merck also claimed that medical records indicated Garza took Vioxx for only about a week.
In a statement released after the verdict, Merck said that Texas state law caps the punitive award at $750,000. Merck plans to appeal the verdict.
Merck Found Liable - Vioxx Lawsuit
A New Jersey jury found Merck liable Tuesday of misrepresenting Vioxx to federal regulators, and ordered the drugmaker to pay $9 million in punitive damages to a man who suffered a heart attack after taking the painkiller.
The plaintiff, former Vioxx patient and heart attack survivor John McDarby of Park Ridge, N.J., was awarded $3 million in compensatory damages last week by the same jury in Atlantic City, N.J., and his wife was awarded $1.5 million. The $9 million is on top of the compensatory damages.
Merck said it would appeal the punitive and compensatory damages.
"We are disappointed in this case because we absolutely believe that our conduct was proper," said Merck's general counsel Ken Frazier, in a teleconference with reporters.
Chuck Harrell, outside counsel for Merck, said punitive damages should not have been awarded because, "We provided the FDA with all the information about Vioxx that we were required to provide."
Mark Lanier, the lawyer representing McDarby in the punitive phase of the trial, told CNNMoney.com that the verdict sends a "very loud message" not just to Merck but the entire drug industry.
"These pharmaceutical companies must tell the truth," Lanier said by telephone. "They must tell the good and the bad news, or American citizens will hold them liable."
Merck, the nation's second-largest drug maker, faces nearly 10,000 lawsuits from people who blame Vioxx for their heart attacks. So far Merck has won two cases and lost one, and there was a split verdict in the case involving McDarby and another N.J. plaintiff, Thomas Cona.
Robert Gordon, McDarby's lawyer throughout the trial and who is representing about 2,000 plaintiffs in upcoming Vioxx cases, said, "This jury has told [Merck] there are more punitive damages coming down the pike and I don't think it's in their best interest to keep trying them."
Merck pulled Vioxx off the market on Sept. 30, 2004, after a study revealed increased risks of heart attacks and strokes among people taking the drug for at least 18 months.
Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., has consistently denied allegations that it deliberately misled federal regulators, doctors or patients about the risks of the drug and says that Vioxx never killed anybody.
Nevertheless, observers point out the company has credibility issues.
"The dishonesty is now coming back to hurt Merck," said Dr. Bryan Liang, a health law studies expert at the University of California.
Looking forward to future cases, Liang said that great attention will be paid to the sympathetic nature of plaintiffs. Liang noted that McDarby, who won damages in the split verdict, was wheelchair-bound, while co-plaintiff Cona, who did not win damages, was described in press reports as energetic.
"The big picture is going to depend on how the defendants are going to look, and how the plaintiff is being portrayed," said Liang.
Liang noticed that jurors stayed "well below" the punitive awards cap of $22.5 million, which is significant because in the first Vioxx trial in Texas, Lanier's plaintiff Carol Ernst was awarded damages that were tenfold the state limit.
"The jurors don't want to seem excessive," said Liang. "Everyone seemed to think that the Texas verdict was excessive, and it hurt the cause."
Merck stock edged lower after the punitive damages were announced. The stock fell sharply after last week's verdict.
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.
Vioxx Lawsuit News
A federal jury handed Merck & Co. a major victory when it cleared the drug maker of any responsibility in the death of a 53-year-old Florida man who had a heart attack after taking its once popular painkiller Vioxx for less than a month.
This was the second court victory for Merck, and the first in a federal court. The company had argued in this case that plaintiff lawyers never proved any link between Vioxx and the heart attack Richard "Dickey" Irvin suffered in 2001. Merck's lawyers contended Irvin's age, gender and diet all put him at risk for heart attacks.
It was also the second time jurors heard the case brought by Irvin's family. In Houston, where the case was heard in November and December because of damage from Hurricane Katrina, jurors were unable to reach a verdict. Merck won a state case in New Jersey last year while it lost one in Texas.
Vioxx Lawsuit Mistrial Declared
A U.S. judge on Monday declared a mistrial in the first federal lawsuit against Merck and its painkiller Vioxx.
A nine member jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict after deliberating since Thursday on whether Vioxx had contributed to the heart attack death of a Florida man in 2001.
Merck pulled the drug off the market in September last year after it said it had become clear that long-term usage of Vioxx could double users' risk of heart attack or stroke.
In August, Merck was found liable for the death of a Texas man in state court. A second trial in New Jersey state court exonerated the company in the death of another man.
Merck faces more than 7,000 lawsuits claiming it hid the risks of heart attack and stroke linked to its blockbuster drug Vioxx.
Vioxx Saftey Info Deleted
The New England Journal of Medicine said it had determined that Merck deleted data about three heart attacks among Vioxx users, and other relevant data, prior to submitting its analysis from the so-called Vigor trial to the Journal in 2000.
The trial compared the safety of Vioxx with naproxen, a widely used rheumatoid arthritis drug.
"The evidence has raised questions about the integrity of the data on adverse cardiovascular events in the article and about some of the article's conclusions," the Journal said in a statement on its Web site.
In response, Merck said it promptly and appropriately disclosed the results of the study, correctly stated possible risks of Vioxx and extensively disclosed the Vigor data to the medical community.
Vioxx was withdrawn in September 2004 after being shown to double the risk of heart attack and stroke in patients taking it for over 18 months. More than 6,000 lawsuits have been filed against Merck in the United States, alleging Vioxx caused heart attacks and deaths.
Vioxx Contribued to Heart Attack
A pathologist testified Wednesday that Merck & Co. Inc.'s Vioxx played a contributing role in the death of a man who took the drug for less than a month, according to media reports."It is my opinion that it contributed to his death," Dr. Colin Bloor testified, according an Associated Press report.
In a Houston federal court, the doctor testified that Richard Irvin, 53 when he died in 2001, was otherwise healthy when he had a fatal heart attack, according to the reports.
The doctor also said Irvin's death was caused by a sudden blood clot in one of his arteries, according to report.
Merck's defense lawyer challenged the pathologist on inconsistencies, according to the reports.
Vioxx, a painkiller, was pulled from the market at the end of September 2004 over concerns that it caused cardiovascular troubles.