Following the withdrawal of the drug from the market by Merck & Co. on 30th September, 2004, there have been more than 5,000 lawsuits commenced against the company. The first trial was held in Texas, and on 19th August, 2005, Carol Ernst, the widow of a Vioxx user, was awarded US$253 million, which included US$450,000 in actual damages, US$24 million for mental anguish and Carol Ernst’s loss of companionship and US$229 million in punitive damages. There are caps under Texan state law, which will reduce the amount of the punitive damages to US$1.65 million, making the total US$26.1 million. Merck have vowed to appeal that verdict, and that process will be very lengthy.
Kenneth C. Frazier, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Merck and Co., Inc, made a statement on 20 August, 2005, in which he said, ” We have strong points to raise on appeal and are hopeful that a higher court will correct the verdict. Even if the verdict were to be upheld, punitive damages under Texas law would be limited to approximately $2 million.
While we are disappointed with the verdict, this decision should be put it in its appropriate context. This is the first of many trials. Each case has a different set of facts. Regardless of the outcome in this single case, the fact remains that plaintiffs have a significant legal burden in proving causation.”
The second trial took place in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where the jury found that Vioxx was not the cause of the heart attack suffered by Frederick Humeston. The medical evidence indicated that Mr. Humeston had serious health problems prior to taking Vioxx, and that he only took the drug for a short period of time and sporadically. He was under severe stress at work, was obese and had a family history of heart attacks, all of which was found to override any effect that Vioxx may have had.
Merck has advised that they will vigorously fight every case.
It is against this background that we have secured the rights of Nova Scotians who have taken Vioxx by filing a class action in Nova Scotia. For those who are registered with our firm to date, we have filed a tort action on their behalf in Nova Scotia.