NEW ORLEANS (AP) A retired FBI agent who suffered a heart attack after taking the painkiller Vioxx is entitled to $50 million in compensatory damages from drug manufacturer Merck & Co., a federal jury found Thursday.
The jury said Merck was negligent for failing to adequately warn Gerald Barnett’s doctors about the risks associated with the drug. The jury also found that Merck “knowingly misrepresented or failed to disclose” information about the drug to Barnett’s doctors.
The same jury was to deliberate later in the day on possible punitive damages for Barnett.
On its verdict sheet, the jury had the chance to assign percentages of fault to Merck and various physicians, but assigned blame only to Merck.
The jury had begun deliberations at about 12:45 p.m. Wednesday, broke for the night around 6 p.m. and reported to the judge that it had a verdict soon after returning at 8:30 a.m.
Barnett’s lawsuit is among more than 16,000 Vioxx-related suits against Merck in state and federal courts. U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon was appointed to handle pretrial matters for all the thousands of federal suits. He heard one before Barnett’s, and has three more scheduled for trials this fall.
The first federal trial had to be held twice. The first jury deliberated 18 hours over three days, but deadlocked over whether Vioxx was to blame for the death of a Florida man who had taken the drug for less than a month. The second jury came back in less than four hours with a verdict for Merck.
In state courts, Merck has won four cases in New Jersey and California. It has lost two cases in Texas and one in New Jersey.
The jurors deciding the Barnett case have at least two things in common with the plaintiff: All eight are men. And they’re all getting older.
Merck attorney Phil Beck pointed out in closing arguments Wednesday that both are risk factors for heart attacks, and neither can be controlled.
Barnett’s attorney, Mark Robinson, has emphasized that his 62-year-old client, who underwent a quintuple bypass after a heart attack at the age of 58, was careful to keep his risks as low as possible with daily exercise, a healthy diet and drugs to control his cholesterol.
He told the jury that the problem was Vioxx, which Barnett took for 31 months before his heart attack in July 2002. He continued to take the painkiller for another two years, stopping one week before Merck pulled it from the market in September 2004, after a study showed it increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes.