A Texas jury found pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. liable for the death of a man who took the once-popular painkiller Vioxx.
Jurors awarded Robert Ernst’s widow, Carol, $253.4 million in damages, which is a combination of his lost pay as a Wal-Mart produce manager, mental anguish, loss of companionship and punitive damages.
The case drew national attention from pharmaceutical companies, lawyers, consumers, stock analysts and arbitragers as a signal of what lies ahead for Merck, which has vowed to fight the more than 4,200 state and federal Vioxx-related lawsuits pending across the country. Merck said it plans to appeal.
A seven-man, five-woman jury from a semi-rural county south of Houston deliberated for 10 1/2 hours over two days before blaming the drug for killing Ernst in his sleep in 2001. Jurors rejected Merck’s argument that Ernst died of clogged arteries rather than a Vioxx-induced heart attack that led to his fatal arrhythmia.