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Humeston wins Vioxx retrial

(Bumping March 12 3:41 PM post to reflect punitive damages verdict and additional press coverage.)

[New Jersey Law Journal; Bloomberg; AP/Forbes; Reuters; Reuters; WSJ Law Blog]

Both the liability determination and the $20 million "compensatory" damages verdict are divorced from reality—and the jury has yet to assess punitive damages after a finding that Merck's actions were "willful and reckless." (Later in the evening, the jury also awarded $27.5 million in punitives.) Humeston took Vioxx for two months (along with large doses of ibuprofen), was overweight, had high blood pressure and cholesterol, but blamed on Vioxx the heart attack he had moments after receiving a letter from the Postal Service suggesting that his disability claim was fraudulent. There was little evidence that the heart attack adversely affected his life relative to other health conditions he had. But this jury, unlike the first Humeston jury, consisted mostly of uneducated casino workers. Earlier Humeston v. Merck coverage, and we discussed the first trial verdict on November 3 and November 4, 2005. An honest appellate court will reinstate the first verdict, as Judge Higbee had no legitimate basis for overturning that jury determination. This is the fifth plaintiffs' jury verdict out of twenty-nine Vioxx cases that had been ready for trial (not including two pending mistrials), but with millions of dollars awarded each time, plaintiffs' attorneys can keep batting below the Mendoza line and make a sizable profit—especially when a couple of defense product liability verdicts in New Jersey from out-of-state plaintiffs also resulted in "consumer fraud" plaintiffs' wins under a strange view of New Jersey choice-of-law and consumer fraud law that entitled plaintiffs to seven digits of attorneys' fees for winning $45 or so at trial.

The miscarriage of justice is so routine that most papers are covering the story with only a paragraph or two.

Merck announced it would appeal.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.