August, 2006 – A New Orleans jury in the second Multi-District Litigation (MDL) trial awarded a $51 million verdict against Merck with $50 million being compensatory damages. The jury also found Merck’s conduct so bad that it warranted a punitive award. Andy Birchfield and Leigh O’Dell from our firm served as co-counsel along with Mark Robinson of Robinson Calcagnie & Robinson, a California firm, during the trial of this matter. The case involved Gerald Barnett, a 62-year-old retired FBI agent, who suffered a heart attack after taking Vioxx. The fact that punitive damages were awarded in the second phase of the trial – while only for $1 million – was most significant.
Andy serves as co-lead counsel for the MDL and has been involved in each of the trials that have occurred in the MDL. This was a major victory for all Vioxx victims. As expected, Merck had put on a full-court press in this case and had predicted a defense verdict to the media. The victory was also significant because of the location of the trial. The jury didn’t buy Merck’s defense and found that Merck had fraudulently misrepresented the heart attack risks associated with Vioxx. The Jurors specifically found that Merck was guilty of reprehensible conduct in its marketing of Vioxx and that Vioxx was the cause of Mr. Barnett’s heart attack.
Clearly, this was a major victory for all Vioxx victims. As stated, the fact that the trial was held in New Orleans and in federal court is most significant. Hopefully, the media is finally beginning to realize how truly bad Merck’s conduct has been. The more that is disclosed about Merck’s knowledge of the deadly risks associated with taking Vioxx, the harder it will be for Merck to win in future trials. It is now abundantly evident that Merck lied to the FDA, to the medical community, including the medical journals, and to the public. That sort of thing simply won’t be tolerated by the American people.