Merck fined $9m in Vioxx lawsuit

Drugs firm Merck has been ordered to pay $9m (£5.1m) in damages to a US man after its Vioxx painkiller was found to have contributed to his heart attack.

A New Jersey jury awarded the punitive damages to 77-year old John McDarby, almost a week after it found Merck liable for his heart attack.

It said Merck had failed to warn about the dangers of taking the drug.

Merck said it would appeal against the verdict as well as a previous $4.5m award for compensatory damages.

“The jury heard irrelevant and prejudicial information from the plaintiffs’ attorneys about Merck and an appeal will be our next step,” said Kenneth Fraser, Merck’s general counsel.

“The evidence is that Merck acted ethically and in a responsible manner,” he added.

Merck withdrew Vioxx in 2004 when it was linked to higher rates of heart attacks, and it now faces a raft of legal actions.

The firm says it thoroughly tested the drug before it went on sale and carefully monitored it afterwards.

Under state law, the New Jersey jury could have awarded a maximum of $22.5m in punitive damages to Mr McDarby, who took Vioxx for four years and is now confined to a wheelchair.

Analysts said the scale of the award indicated the jury believed Merck had knowingly withheld information about the risks attached to Vioxx.

“This is a very damaging verdict for Merck because the jury found their conduct was in disregard of public safety, meaning that it was more than an ordinary negligent act,” said Frank McClellan, professor of law at Temple University in Philadelphia.

However, Merck said Mr McDarby had failed to prove that Vioxx was a “substantial” contributory factor in his heart attack.

Merck has lost two of the five Vioxx liability cases which have so far come to court in the US.

Last August, it was ordered to pay $253m in damages to the widow of a Texas man but this amount will be reduced since the state caps the amount which can be paid in punitive damages.

Merck is facing 10,000 lawsuits from users of Vioxx who claim the drug contributed to serious illness.

Merck has pledged to fight every single legal action.

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