****FOR PRINT*** Texas SC overturns $8M Vioxx verdict

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 30, 2011, 5:10am


AUSTIN (Legal Newsline) - The Texas Supreme Court on Friday overturned a huge jury award in favor of a Texas man who died after briefly taking Vioxx, an arthritis drug Merck & Co. eventually pulled from the market.

The Court, in its 18-page opinion, said the family of Leonel Garza Sr. presented "unreliable evidence." Garza's family sued the drugmaker, alleging that Vioxx caused his death in 2001.

Merck stopped selling Vioxx in September 2004. Evidence showed that the anti-inflammatory drug increased the risk of heart attack and stroke. Thousands of lawsuits were eventually filed across the U.S.

After a few cases were tried with mixed results, Merck agreed to pay $4.85 billion into a settlement fund for qualifying claims. The Garzas' claim did not qualify.

Instead, in 2006, a jury awarded $32 million to the family -- $7 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. Later that year, the punitive award was reduced to $750,000 in compliance with Texas statutory caps. Merck appealed.

A state appeals court later overturned the verdict due to jury misconduct and ordered a new trial.

However, the state's high court found that the evidence did not support the plaintiffs and therefore ordered final judgment in favor of Merck.

Justice Nathan L. Hecht authored the ruling.

"A plaintiff cannot prove causation by presenting different types of unreliable evidence. Thus, we are constrained to hold that the Garzas did not present reliable evidence of general causation and are therefore not entitled to recover against Merck," he wrote for the Court.

Ted Mayer of Hughes Hubbard & Reed, outside counsel for Merck, said of the ruling, "Today's decision reaffirms that there is simply no reliable scientific evidence that Vioxx caused the plaintiff's heart attack."

During the trial, Merck was represented by Richard L. Josephson and Travis J. Sales of Houston law firm Baker Botts LLP. Merck's lead appellate counsel is Baker Botts partner Stephen G. Tipps.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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