An Angleton jury found the drug company Merck liable in the death of Robert Ernst. The jury reached a verdict in the nation’s first Vioxx trial after one and a half days of deliberations.
In a ten to two count, the jury found Merck liable on all the charges against the company. There was an audible gasp from many onlookers as the verdict was read, Carol Ernst and her family members began to sob and her attorney Mark Lanier pulled her into a hug and rushed her into another room.
After a few moments of celebration, Ernst and Lanier met with the jury to thank the seven men and five women for their service over the past six weeks. Ernst says it was a difficult decision to go through with this case, but she felt compelled to do it.
The jury found the marketing and design of Vioxx to be defective. They also found Merck to be negligent in connection with Robert Ernst’s death and found clear and convincing evidence of malice. They awarded more than $253 million in economic and punitive damages. Texas law limits damages so that number will automatically be reduced. Merck attorney Ted Mayer says the company maintains no wrongdoing and will continue to fight.
Mayer says they will take on each case individually and will not settle out of court. Lanier says if the Merck president had apologized and admitted responsibility Carol Ernst likely would have dropped the case, but Merck never offered a settlement.
This is the first of more than 4,000 cases against the Merck drug company. This verdict could prompt thousands more to file in Vioxx-related deaths.