Merck Denied Retrial, Ordered to Pay $15 Million to Couple
By Gerri Elder
Another blow was delivered to the drug-making giant Merck in a case over a heart attack caused by prolonged use of the company's arthritis drug Vioxx. A New Jersey court recently upheld a judgment that awarded a local couple over $15 million in both compensatory damages and punitive damages. The couple, John and Irma McDarby, were seeking compensation for a heart attack that the 77-year-old man had suffered after his usage of Vioxx in 2004.
In a statement made in the case, Jerry Kristal, an attorney in the firm representing the couple, had this to say: "Merck tells everyone they put patients first. However, in truth, they put John McDarby and all the others who they knowingly harmed by Vioxx, last."
The origins of this case, and the thousands like it, go back to 2004, when Merck pulled Vioxx after determining through extensive research studies that the arthritis drug doubled the risk of heart attacks in patients who had been using the drug for more than 18 months. At the time, the withdrawal of the drug from the market was a major shock, since no drug as immensely popular as Vioxx had ever before been withdrawn at the height of its popularity. Over the roughly five-year period from its appearance on the market in 1999 to its disappearance in late September, 2004, the drug had been prescribed to around 80 million patients worldwide. The year prior to its withdrawal from the market, Merck enjoyed revenues from Vioxx alone equaling $2.5 billion.
The drug's widespread prescription and use were in large part responsible for disastrous fallout for Merck after it withdrew the product. An estimated total of 80,000-140,000 heart attacks and strokes occurred due to use of the drug. The popularity, coupled with the severe side effects connected with the drug, has made litigation against the company rampant. As of last year, around 10,000 cases and 190 class action suits had been filed against Merck to recover damages from cardiovascular events that arose from the drugs side effects. Preparing to face these hotly-contested court battles, the company has stated that it has reserved $970 million for litigation over the next several years.
The judgment that brought the couple its victory occurred on April 5, 2006. It took a full year to pass before the judgment on the request for retrial was made. Interestingly enough, the same jury did not award compensation to another heart attack victim who brought suit to the company in the same trial, 60-year-old Thomas Cona. After the original judgment for McDarby, Merck had moved for a new trial, which the judge denied, in addition to the company's request for a reduction of the jury verdict. In response to the recent decision, Merck promises that it will seek an appeal.