Texas Court Overturns $7.75 Million Verdict from 2006 Vioxx Trial

On Wednesday, the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals issued a ruling that overturns a $7.75 million verdict issued in a Vioxx lawsuit tried over two years ago. The court found that insufficient evidence was presented by the plaintiff to rule out that Leonel Garza’s 2001 fatal heart attack may have been caused by pre-existing health conditions.

Vioxx, which was manufactured by Merck, was withdrawn in 2004 as a result of an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and death associated with the painkiller. Since then, the pharmaceutical company has faced thousands of Vioxx lawsuits pursued by individuals who claimed that their heart attack or stroke was caused by the drug.

In Garza’s April 2006 trial, a Rio Grande City, Texas jury returned a verdict of $32 million in Garza’s favor, including $25 million in punitive damages as a result of Merck’s conduct surrounding the marketing and promotion of the drug. However, the punitive damage award was later reduced under Texas law, resulting in a $7.75 million verdict for Garza’s widow.

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“We conclude the evidence is legally insufficient to support a finding that plaintiffs negated with reasonable certainty Mr. Garza’s preexisting heart condition as a plausible cause of his death,” wrote the Court in a unanimous opinion.

In November 2007, Merck agreed to settle about 27,000 Vioxx lawsuits for a total sum of $4.85 billion. However, Garza’s case was excluded from the settlement at the time the deal was negotiated. The attorneys who litigated the case have to decide whether they will request another hearing before the Texas Appeals Court or request a review by the Supreme Court of Texas.

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