A judge who threw out a $51 million damage award against Merck last year over its Vioxx painkiller reversed himself and awarded $1.6 million to the plaintiff, a former F.B.I. agent who blamed the drug for his heart attack. 

Judge Eldon E. Fallon of Federal District Court in New Orleans, who oversees all Vioxx litigation in federal courts, said yesterday that the retired agent, Gerald Barnett, could accept a $1.6 million award or have a new trial on his claims that Vioxx caused his 2002 heart attack.

The award includes $600,000 in compensatory and $1 million in punitive damages.

Merck had sought to have the Barnett verdict thrown out entirely, but the judge denied that request, ruling in August 2006 that the company was entitled only to a new trial.

Merck faces more than 27,000 lawsuits over Vioxx, which researchers have linked to increased risks of heart attack and strokes.



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