May 29, 2008

Merck Wins Appellate Reversals in Two Vioxx Cases With Big Punitive Damages Awards

Merck scored two big appellate victories today in Vioxx cases in New Jersey and Texas. In the Texas case, Merck & Co. v. Ernst, a jury had awarded $253.4 million, including $229 million in punitive damages, to a plaintiff who claimed Vioxx caused her husband's death. That judgment was reduced to $26 million under Texas law capping damage awards. The Texas appellate court (the Fourteenth Court of Appeals) reversed the judgment in its entirety, ruling there was “no competent evidence that a blood clot triggered by Vioxx ingestion” caused Mr. Ernst’s death. This follows on the heels of another recent appellate win for Merck in a Texas Vioxx case in which the jury awarded $25 million punitive damages.

In the New Jersey case, McDarby v. Merck & Co., the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey tossed out a $9 million punitive damages award. The court also reduced a portion of the $4.5 million compensatory damages award that was based on the state’s consumer fraud statute.

In light of Merck's string of appellate victories, the WSJ law blog asks whether Merck jumped the gun in reaching a $4.85 billion Vioxx settlement last November.

Hat tip: Texas Appellate Law Blog.