NEW YORK An appeals court in Texas overturned a
$7.75 million verdict against Merck & Co (MRK.N) involving its
withdrawn pain drug Vioxx on Wednesday, ruling that evidence
presented at trial failed to prove the medicine caused the
heart attack suffered by the plaintiff's husband.
A jury in April of 2006 found that Vioxx was responsible
for the death of 71-year-old Leonel Garza and awarded his wife,
Felicia Garza, $7 million in compensatory damages and $25
million in punitive damages.
Due to limits under Texas law, the punitive damages were
later knocked down to $750,000, although Merck had not paid any
of the award, pending the appeal.
Merck appeared to have a strong case at the trial as Garza
had taken Vioxx for less than a month and had had a previous
heart attack. But the jury came down on the side of the widow,
finding that Merck hid the risks of the drug and that Vioxx was
a major cause of the heart attack.
The Texas Fourth Court of Appeals disagreed with the jury's
"Even viewing all the evidence in the light most favorable
to plaintiffs, we conclude the evidence is legally insufficient
to support a finding that plaintiffs negated, with reasonable
certainty, Mr. Garza's preexisting heart condition as a
plausible cause of his death," Justice Sandee Bryan Marion
wrote in the unanimous decision in favor of Merck.
Ted Mayer, Merck's outside counsel, applauded the appellate
"Today's decision reaffirms that there is simply no
reliable scientific evidence that Vioxx caused Mr. Garza's
heart attack," Mayer said in a statement.
Merck pulled the once $2.5 billion a year drug from the
market in September 2004 after a study found it doubled the
risk of heart attack and stroke in patients who took it for at
least 18 months. By then the medicine had been used by some 20
million U.S. patients.
After winning the majority of cases that went to trial,
Merck agreed in November to pay $4.85 billion to settle most of
the claims that Vioxx caused heart attacks and strokes in
thousands of users. At the time the settlement was announced,
Merck was facing some 26,600 lawsuits from former Vioxx users.
The company said earlier this month that at least 94
percent of eligible claimants have elected to participate in
Merck shares were up 1.6 percent, to $39.80 in afternoon
trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Reporting by Bill Berkrot, editing by Dave Zimmerman and