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An Atlantic City jury awarded a total of $13.5 million in damages to a plaintiff who alleged that his heart attack was caused by Vioxx. This verdict dealt a big blow to Merck because the trial happened in Merck’s own backyard, less than 100 miles from the company’s headquarters in Whitehouse Station, NJ.

John McDarby took Vioxx for 4 years and had a heart attack in 2004. The jury found that Vioxx caused the heart attack and awarded Mr. McDarby and his wife $4.5 million in compensatory damages. The jury later ruled that Merck had misled the FDA about the dangers of the drug and had engaged in willful and wanton conduct. Therefore, they awarded $9 million in punitive damages. This was the first time that a jury in New Jersey has awarded punitive damages against a pharmaceutical manufacturer. With this verdict, Merck has lost 2 of the 4 Vioxx cases that have gone to trial. The other plaintiff’s verdict came in Texas last summer. Merck has promised to appeal both cases. The drug company faces thousands of lawsuits by people who suffered heart attacks and strokes while taking Vioxx. Merck stopped selling the drug after a study indicated an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes when the drug was taken for more than 18 months. Merck has maintained its plan to defend each of the Vioxx cases.

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