Updated from 4:30 p.m. EDTMerck ( MRK) confirmed Wednesday that it won an appeal in a liability case related to Vioxx. A Texas appeals court overturned a verdict that had awarded $7.75 million to the widow of a 71-year-old heart attack victim. Leonel Garza had died after taking Vioxx for a month. The drug was pulled from the market in 2004 after research showed it increased the risk of heart attack and stroke. The jury's original verdict on April 21, 2006, included $7 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages for a total of $32 million against Merck, the company said in a statement. In December of that year, the punitive award was reduced to $750,000 in compliance with Texas statutory caps. Fordham Law professor Ben Zipursky, who specializes in product liability law in the pharmaceutical industry, said it's important to realize this was a very weak case. Aside from the risk factors that Garza had prior to taking Vioxx, one of the jurors failed to disclose that he had borrowed money from the widow in the suit, said Zipursky. "It's clear that this case, for any number of reasons, stands very little chance of ever coming back in favor of the plaintiff." But, don't expect this case to affect anything aside from a few other cases in Texas, says the law professor. Overwhelmingly, the settlement agreement will handle these cases and there's no reason to believe it won't keep moving forward, he says.
Merck is working to resolve such Vioxx-related state and federal claims filed before Nov. 9, 2007. According to Merck, the Garza case was excluded from the settlement program. Merck's shares rose 1.7% to close Wednesday at $39.83.