Merck to pay $32m in Vioxx ruling

Drugs firm Merck has been ordered to pay $32m (£18m) in damages after its Vioxx painkiller was found to have contributed to a fatal heart attack.

A Texas jury awarded $25m in punitive damages and $7m in compensatory damages – holding the firm liable after a 71-year-old died after taking the drug.

Merck will appeal and said Leonel Garza had died after years of heart disease.

The case was the sixth of 11,500 suits to reach a verdict, with Merck having three wins and three losses.

The money will be paid to Mr Garza’s family.

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.

In court the Garza family’s legal team admitted that the dead man had a history of heart problems, but argued that his veins had been cleared and tests showed less than a 2% risk of heart attack within a year.

According to them Mr Garza had taken Vioxx for almost a month before he died in April 2001, something Merck disputed saying he may have taken the drug for less than a week.

Merck lawyers also said there was no proven link between heart problems and use of the drug for less than 18 months.

In its two previous court losses Vioxx was ordered to pay one plaintiff $253.4m, which will be reduced to $26m under Texas caps on punitive damages, and in the other $13.5m.

Analyst Shaojing Tong, analyst at Mehta Partners, said: “Everybody knows that Texas is a very anti-pharma, anti-company state. I wouldn’t read too much into this verdict.”

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