TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – The New Jersey Court of Appeals upheld most of two multimillion-dollar judgments against Merck & Co., after couples sought damages for heart problems allegedly caused by the prescription painkiller Vioxx, but vacated the punitive damages award.
John and Irma McDarby, along with Thomas and Joyce Cona, sued Merck after Vioxx caused cardiovascular side effects that were not listed on the bottle’s warning label.
Judge Payne ruled that federal law does not prevent the plaintiffs from collecting compensatory damages under the state’s Product Liability Act, but punitive damages and fraud claims are pre-empted by the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
The ruling details the internal debate at Merck between its scientists and marketers. Ultimately, the court ruled, Merck failed to alert the public to “a clinically significant hazard as soon as there is reasonable evidence of a causal association with a drug.”