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Merck ordered to pay $32 million in Vioxx case

/ Source: The Associated Press

A state jury found Merck & Co. liable Friday for the death of a 71-year-old man who had a fatal heart attack within a month of taking its painkiller Vioxx and ordered the company to pay $32 million. Merck said it would appeal.

The jury of 10 men and two women deliberated for more about seven hours over two days before returning the verdict in favor of the family of Leonel Garza.

The company was ordered to pay $7 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages.

“Merck will appeal,” spokesman Kent Jarrel said.

The case was the sixth of 11,500 lawsuits to reach a verdict and brings Merck’s scorecard in the trials to three wins and three losses.

Attorneys for Garza said that while Garza had a history of heart problems, his veins had been cleared and a stress test showed less than a 2 percent risk of heart attack within a year. They said he had taken the drug for almost a month before he died in April of 2001.

Merck lawyers argued there was no proven link between heart problems and use of the drug for less than 18 months and said there was doubt whether Garza had taken the drug for more than a week. They said the heart attack was the end result of Garza’s 23 years of heart disease.

In the prior two losses, the New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company was ordered to pay one plaintiff $253.4 million, which will be reduced to $26 million under Texas caps on punitive damages; and the other $13.5 million.