Thursday, December 21, 2006

Texas Judge Reduces Vioxx Award

Article in the New York Times -- Vioxx Award Cut to $7.75M, by the Associated Press:

A judge in a Texas widow's lawsuit over the Merck & Co. drug Vioxx on Thursday reduced a $32 million jury award to about $7.75 million so that it conformed to state law.

A state jury in April found Merck & Co. liable for the death in 2001 of Leonel Garza, a 71-year-old man who had a fatal heart attack within a month of taking the since-withdrawn painkiller.

After the verdict was issued, the company was ordered to pay the Garza family $7 million in noneconomic compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages.

But Judge Alex Gabert, in a Rio Grande City courtroom, ordered the punitive damage reduced to conform to a 2003 Texas law that caps punitive damages at twice the amount of economic damages -- lost pay -- and up to $750,000 on top of noneconomic damages.

Because Garza was retired, the jury awarded no economic damages, so Merck was ordered to pay the most the family could receive under state law.

In this case, the defense is also seeking a new trial based on upon financial contact between the widow plaintiff and one juror:

Merck attorneys in September were granted access to bank and cell phone records they said would show an improper financial relationship between juror Jose Manuel Rios and Felicia Garza, the widow.

Rios, who earns $22,000 a year as a school janitor, testified in a post-trial deposition to borrowing up to $10,000 interest-free from Felicia Garza. He said the loans included $2,500 that was paid off just weeks before jury selection in the case.


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