TRENTON, N.J. - Merck & Co. said yesterday that the Texas Supreme Court has overturned a huge jury award to the family of a Texas man who died after briefly taking Vioxx, the painkiller the drug maker later pulled from the market.
A jury in Rio Grande City, Texas, in April 2006 awarded $32 million to the family of Leonel Garza, 71. He had had heart disease for 23 years and died in 2001 after less than a month on Vioxx.
The award - originally $25 million in punitive damages, plus $7 million in compensatory damages - was reduced in December 2006 to $7.75 million under the state’s damage caps. A Texas Appeals Court later overturned the verdict because of jury misconduct and ordered a new trial.
Merck stopped selling Vioxx in September 2004, amid evidence it doubled risk of heart attack and stroke. A deluge of lawsuits soon followed, mostly on behalf of Vioxx users who had suffered or died from heart attacks or strokes. Roughly 50,000 of those cases were ended under a $4.85 billion settlement Merck reached with plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Garza’s case, though, was among about a dozen that had gone to trial or did not meet requirements for the accord settlement. Merck won most of the Vioxx cases brought against it, and it tied up the ones it lost in lengthy appeals, before negotiating the settlement.
Yesterday, Merck said the Texas high court ruled the evidence did not support the Garza family’s contentions and issued a final ruling in favor of Merck.
“The Garzas did not present reliable evidence of general causation and therefore are not entitled to recover against Merck,’’ Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan L. Hecht wrote in the ruling.