A jury in Atlantic County, N.J. today returned verdicts, awarding $20 million in compensatory damages and $27.5 million in punitive damages to plaintiff Frederick ‘Mike’ Humeston and his wife Mary against defendant Merck & Co. (NYSE: MRK) in the Vioxx-related personal injury trial entitled, Humeston v. Merck, as reported by the plaintiffs’ trial counsel, Seeger Weiss LLP. The jury’s verdicts represent a total damages award against Merck of $47.5 million.
Last August, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Carol E. Higbee vacated the November 2005 verdict that had been rendered in Merck’s favor in the original trial of the action on various grounds, including findings by the New England Journal of Medicine that Merck had failed to report material cardiovascular safety data in connection with the publication of its landmark 2000 Vioxx clinical study know as VIGOR. The retrial of the case began in January 2007. On March 2, 2007, the jury returned a verdict in the retrial’s first phase, finding that Merck had failed to adequately warn of the cardiovascular safety risks posed by Vioxx. The trial then moved into its second phase, in which the jury heard evidence specifically relating to Mr. Humeston. Following the completion of that second phase, the jury concluded that Vioxx use by Mr. Humeston, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, had resulted in his September 2001 heart attack and awarded $18 million in compensatory damages to Mr. Humeston and $2 million to his wife. That verdict was significant because Mr. Humeston took Vioxx for only 2 months prior to suffering his heart attack. The jury rejected Merck’s claim that there is no increased risk associated with the drug until after 18 months of continuous use.
After a third and final phase, the jury heard arguments and evidence and rendered its verdict awarding punitive damages to the Humestons. The jury found that Merck’s conduct represented an extreme deviation from reasonable standards of conduct and that its actions were malicious, oppressive, or outrageous.
Seeger Weiss LLP’s trial team was led by partners Christopher A. Seeger, David R. Buchanan, and Moshe E. Horn, and included associates Jeffrey S. Grand and Valere Laurence Nassif. In addition, the first phase of the trial was co-tried by Seeger Weiss with W. Mark Lanier, of The Lanier Law Firm in Houston, Texas, who represented another plaintiff in the same trial, the estate of Brian Hermans. Mr. Lanier, aided by his extremely able trial team, brought his outstanding skills and experience to bear in the two co-plaintiffs’ quest for justice. Seeger Weiss is deeply appreciative of his exceptional contribution to today’s result.
In response to today’s damages awards, Mr. Seeger stated: “We’re extremely pleased that, after considering all of the evidence, the jury recognized the very serious heart risks of Vioxx and the outrageous lengths to which Merck went to conceal those risks from doctors and the public. Mr. Humeston had taken Vioxx to alleviate severe pain stemming from wounds he suffered in the service of his country, only to suffer a heart attack. This verdict brings overdue justice to Mr. Humeston and his family, who were among the many thousands of unsuspecting users of this very dangerous product and victims of Merck’s egregious misconduct.’
Seeger Weiss LLP, with offices in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and California, serves as colead counsel in the federal MDL Vioxx litigation and coliaison counsel in the coordinated New Jersey state Vioxx litigation. The firm further represents numerous clients from across the country who suffered life-altering injuries as a result of taking Vioxx, and also serves as lead counsel on behalf of union health and welfare programs in a class action pending in New Jersey for Merck’s overcharging of union welfare funds for Vioxx. On March 19, 2007, the New Jersey Supreme Court is to hear oral argument of Merck’s appeal of the unanimous March 31, 2006 decision of the New Jersey Appellate Division, upholding the trial court’s decision certifying a Vioxx-related nationwide class action against Merck, brought on behalf of third-party payors by Seeger Weiss.