(Bloomberg) A judge who threw out a $51 million damage award against Merck & Co. last year over its Vioxx painkiller reversed himself and awarded $1.6 million to a former FBI agent who blamed his heart attack on the drug.

U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon in New Orleans, who oversees all Vioxx litigation in federal courts, said today 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.

“I’m going to recommend that my client accept” the award, said Mark Robinson, a Los Angeles-based lawyer who represented Barnett at trial.  “No appeals court is going to be able to say that amounts to an excessive verdict.”

Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based Merck faces more than 27,000 lawsuits over Vioxx, which researchers have linked to increase risks of heart attack and strokes. Merck, the U.S.’s third-largest drugmaker, pulled the drug off the market in 2005. Kent Jarrell, a Merck spokesman, wasn’t immediately available for comment on Fallon’s ruling.

Merck had sought to have Barnett’s verdict thrown out entirely. Fallon denied that request, ruling in August 2006 that the company was only entitled to a new trial on damages in the case.

The case is Barnett v. Merck, 06-485, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).


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