ANGLETON, Texas – Jurors in the nation's first Vioxx-related civil trial began their second day of deliberations Friday in a case about the death of a Texas man who took the drug for eight months.
The panel of seven men and five women deliberated for seven hours Thursday.
About an hour after they began Thursday, the panel requested copies of several documents admitted into evidence during the trial. Lawyers delivered those and hundreds more that had been presented since the trial began with opening statements July 14.
The first case to go to trial among more than 4,200 lawsuits has drawn national attention as a test of how the drug's maker, Merck & Co. (MRK), will fare in other cases. Analysts have speculated Merck's liability could reach $18 billion.
In this case, plaintiff Carol Ernst alleges Vioxx (search) led to the death of her husband, Robert, who took the painkiller to alleviate pain in his hands. Merck contends the drug had nothing to do with his death.
Merck launched Vioxx in 1999 with great fanfare to relieve arthritis and acute pain while cutting risk of stomach bleeding by inhibiting a blood-thinning enzyme. Last year, the company withdrew what had become a $2.5 billion seller from the market after a long-term study showed it could double risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for 18 months or longer.
Some 20 million people took Vioxx when it was available to consumers.
Carol Ernst's lawyer, Mark Lanier, asked jurors to award her at least $40 million in damages.
He hinted during closing arguments that her mental anguish and loss of companionship damages could reach $229 million or more. Lanier said Merck reaped that amount from Vioxx sales in the four months leading to the February 2002 addition of cardiovascular warnings on the drug's label. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had suggested such changes in October 2001 in light of a 2000 study that showed Vioxx users suffered five times as many heart attacks as those who took the older painkiller naproxen.
In Texas, punitive damages are capped at twice the amount of economic damages — such as lost wages — and up to $750,000 on top of non-economic damages, such as mental anguish and loss of companionship. But the non-economic damages have no limits in this case.