Separately, an appeals court in New Jersey sharply reduced a verdict in another Vioxx case. The court ruled that the jury should not have been allowed to award punitive damages against Merck or to find that Merck had committed consumer fraud. Only compensatory damages of $4.5 million were permitted, the court said.
The rulings on Thursday leave lawyers for plaintiffs with just three victories, all with relatively small awards, in the nearly 20 Vioxx cases that have reached juries. Mark Lanier, a plaintiffs’ lawyer who was involved in both cases decided Thursday, criticized the decisions and promised appeals. But plaintiffs face an uphill battle.
Bruce Kuhlik, Merck’s general counsel, said the company was pleased with the rulings.
“Our faith in the judges and the fairness of the process has been well placed,” he said.
Thursday’s ruling may further discourage lawyers from pursuing lawsuits against drug makers. Already, plaintiffs’ lawyers are nervously awaiting a Supreme Court ruling in a case that will be heard this fall and could bar most lawsuits against companies for injuries said to be caused by prescription medicines approved by the Food and Drug Administration.