Vioxx, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, was recalled voluntarily by its manufacturer, worldwide in the year 2004, as it was known to cause cardiovascular problems as its side effect. At a point in time it was forecast that Vioxx lawsuit settlement could be one amongst the largest defective drug settlements. After Merck had officially announced to fight each case individually, it was estimated that the pharmaceutical giant might have to shell out whooping $4.85 billion in order to settle the majority of pending Vioxx lawsuits.

The Vioxx federal MDL court along with all the courts of California, New Jersey and Texas required all the lawsuits to be registered before 15th January 2008. More than 58,000 petitions were registered. Merck lost five lawsuits of the eleven Vioxx lawsuits that went for complete trials. Merck also decided to keep separate funds for people who suffered from heart attack and ischemic strokes. It is known that the fund reserved for people who suffered from heart attack was $4 billion and that for people who suffered from ischemic stroke was another $850 million. However the compensation also depended hugely on the extent of damage caused and was decided individually, as per the sufferings the plaintiff had borne in each case, individually.

Few verdicts of the various lawsuits filed are listed below:

  1. “Merck is a winner in a Vioxx Lawsuit”- as reported by the New York Times dated 16th November 2006, Merck won its sixth verdict against Charles Mason, who claimed that the drug caused him heart attack.
  2. Mr. Humeston in 2001, filed a case stating that Vioxx was responsible for his heart attack in the year 2001, however based on the evidences provided, the Atlantic City jury concluded that Vioxx did no harm and Merck in no way had misinterpreted the information.
  3. In another case, plaintiff Carol Ernst sued Merck, for causing death of his husband Robert Ernst, due to vioxx which he took for eight months. Though all the studies done on Vioxx never suggested that either it could cause arrhythmia, or cause heart attacks if taken for less than a year and a half, still the jury gave the benefit to the widow of Robert Ernst, and awarded her $24 million in compensatory damage and $229 million in punitive damages.
  4. In the case of Lenol Garza, a 71-year-old man, Merck was ordered to pay a compensation of $7 million for non- economic damages and $25 million in punitive damages.

Since the state law caps the punitive damages based upon amounts pertaining to

  • Economic damage
  • Lost pay
  • Mental anguish and loss of companionship, in addition to non- economic damages to a maximum of $75,000.

The compensation amount in the case of Carol Ernst and Lenol Garza was reduced to $26 million and $7.75 million respectively.

Tony Butler, an analyst from the Lehman Brother commented that it was correct decision taken by Merck to handle all the lawsuits individually as in Vioxx case the facts of the litigation mattered a lot. While there had been instances, where the plaintiff had taken Vioxx for a very short duration, within which no clinical study proves that it could have caused harm, and still the plaintiff had got a compensation, there were also instances, wherein the claimant was taking the drug for more than 18 months, but still the injury was not due to Vioxx.