Jury awards widow $253.4 million in Vioxx trial
A Texas jury found pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. liable for the death of a man who took the once-popular painkiller Vioxx, awarding his widow $253.4 million in damages in the first of thousands of lawsuits pending across the country, the Associated Press reports. The panel deliberated for 10-1/2 hours over two days before returning the verdict in a 10-2 vote. But the damage award is likely to be drastically cut to no more than $26.1 million because Texas law caps the punitive damages that made up the bulk of the total. Jurors rejected Merck''s argument that Robert Ernst, 59, died of clogged arteries rather than a Vioxx-induced heart attack that led to his fatal arrhythmia. Ernst, a produce manager at a Wal-Mart store, ran marathons and taught aerobics classes on the side. Merck pulled Vioxx, a $2.5 billion seller, from the market in September 2004 when a long-term study showed it could double risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for 18 months or longer. By then, more than 20 million Americans had taken the medicine, which along with Pfizer Inc.''s Celebrex, was one of a class of Cox-2 inhibitor drugs once dubbed as super aspirin. Another Vioxx trial is set to begin in New Jersey, where Merck is based, next month, and the first federal trial in New Orleans is slated for late November.