A jury found Merck & Co. liable on Wednesday for one of two former Vioxx users' heart attacks in a split verdict that awarded $4.5 million in damages to one of the plaintiffs.
The state jury found the company failed to adequately warn both men about the risk factors linking the now-withdrawn painkiller to heart attacks and strokes, but said the drug was only a factor in one of the men's illnesses.
Jurors ruled that only John McDarby, 77, a retired insurance agent from Park Ridge, should receive compensation. McDarby was awarded $3 million for pain and suffering and his wife was awarded $1.5 million.
The verdict is the second court loss for Merck, against two victories, one in a retrial. The trial was the first dealing with plaintiffs who blamed illnesses on long-term use of the painkiller.
McDarby lawyer Robert Gordon called the verdict, which came after less than two days of deliberations, "a victory for 100,000 Americans who had heart attacks from Vioxx."
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 health slide that has left him using a wheelchair and unable to care for himself, according to his attorneys.
The jury was expected to return to court Thursday to decide whether the company will face punitive damages.
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.
The trial also included the case of Thomas Cona, a 60-year-old businessman from Cherry Hill who was stricken 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.
Mark Lanier, Cona's lawyer, attributed the jury's finding that Vioxx didn't cause Cona's heart attack to the discrepancy in his client's prescription history: Cona said he took Vioxx for 22 months before being stricken, but his medical records reflected only seven months of use.
"My client was never in it for the money. He was in it for the truth," Lanier said.
Merck, which faces about 9,650 suits in state and federal courts over Vioxx, said it will continue to fight each one.
In after-hours trading Wednesday evening, Merck shares fell $1.13, or 3.1 percent, to $34.86 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Source- Asbury Park Press