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Family Wins $32 Million in Texas Vioxx Lawsuit

April 22, 2006|From Reuters

A Texas jury Friday found that the painkiller Vioxx caused the death of 71-year-old Leonel Garza and awarded $32 million to his family.

It was the latest verdict in lawsuits charging that Vioxx maker Merck & Co. did not disclose for several years that the drug increased the risk of heart attacks.

The jury awarded Garza's family $7 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages, but the punitive damages will be reduced to no more than $750,000 because of a cap imposed by Texas law.

Merck, which faces about 10,000 Vioxx-related lawsuits, immediately said it would appeal the decision.

Attorneys for Garza's family said Vioxx had caused blood clots that led to a fatal heart attack. They had sought more than $1 billion in damages but were pleased with the verdict.

They argued that Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck knew about the drug's dangers by 2000, a year after Vioxx hit the market, but hid the truth because the company needed the sales.

Merck withdrew the $2.5-billion-a-year drug in September 2004 after it said a study had found that use of Vioxx for more than 18 months doubled the risk of stroke and heart attack.

Plaintiffs' attorney Joe Escobedo said the case was the first in which a jury concluded that short-term use of Vioxx caused a heart attack.

Friday was the fifth anniversary of Garza's death on April 21, 2001. He took Vioxx for less than a month before he died.

Merck lawyers blamed Garza's death on heart disease that had plagued him since 1978. They said medical records indicated he may have taken Vioxx for only a week and stopped the medicine nearly three weeks before his death.

"We thought the facts were overwhelming that Vioxx was not involved in any way in Leonel Garza's death," said Merck attorney Richard Josephson.

Shares of Merck closed down 26 cents at $34.74.

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