Vioxx went to 3 for 6 in jury verdicts today as Merck lost a case in Texas (WSJ $). Merck got hit with $7 million in damages plus $25 million in punitive damages, presumably since Merck was so clearly at fault as to be considered to have acted recklessly. With that in mind, consider a couple of facts in the case: First, the plaintiff..
died of a heart attack after taking Vioxx for less than a month.
I know what you are thinking. How, after less than a month of use (and maybe as little as a week), could any plaintiff prove their heart attack was from Vioxx? I mean, out of the thousands of people who took Vioxx, some statistically were due for a heart attack even had they not taken the drug. Having one event (the heart attack) follow another (Vioxx use) does not prove causation, after all. I guess the jury decided that this guy was not at risk for a heart attack otherwise. Of course, they admitted that:
Mr. Garza, a Vietnam veteran who was 71 years old when he died in 2001,
had a history of smoking, had suffered a prior heart attack in 1981 and
had quadruple bypass surgery in 1985.
But I'm sure that had no bearing on his heart attack. It must have been from the week of Vioxx. His lawyers mitigated this by arguing:
he had a stress test shortly before his heart attack that showed he was in good health
Do you know how many men die of heart attacks within months of having a clean stress test? A lot.
The plaintiffs initially asked for a billion dollars, so I guess if only by comparison the verdict was reasonable. I wrote more about the danger of making uninformed juries the arbiter of what risk trade-offs we as individuals can take with our medications here and here and here. I questioned multiple punitive damage awards for the same offense in the context of double jeopardy here.