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Staff and wire services Merck hit with $253M verdict in Vioxx trial A Texas jury found pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. liable on Aug. 19 for the death of a man who took the once-popular painkiller Vioxx, awarding his widow $253.4 million in damages in the first of thousands of lawsuits pending across the country. A seven-man, five-woman jury deliberated for 10 1/2 hours over two days before returning the verdict. Merck said it plans to appeal. “Anyone who said they are too small town or won’t understand, they are crazy,” said plaintiffs’ counsel Mark Lanier. “They know truth and they know justice.” Jurors in semi-rural Brazoria County rejected Merck’s argument that the plaintiff died of clogged arteries rather than a Vioxx-induced heart attack that led to his fatal arrhythmia. Illinois high court tosses $1B State Farm verdict The Illinois Supreme Court last week reversed a $1 billion judgment against State Farm Insurance Co. in a class action alleging that the company used substandard parts to repair damaged cars. The court held that the lawsuit should never have been given class action status. Differences in customers’ insurance policies meant they did not share the same conditions necessary to sue as a group, justices found. State Farm declined to comment immediately after the ruling was issued. 9th Circuit extends RICO to police misconduct RICO is not just for gangsters anymore. The law-passed by Congress 35 years ago to rein in organized crime-can now be used by prisoners suing cops for wrongful incarceration. That’s what the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said last week in Diaz v. Parks, No. 05 C.D.O.S. The per curiam ruling held that a man can sue the Los Angeles Police Department under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act on the charge that wrongful imprisonment has caused him financial and property losses. The decision expands for the first time the ability to gain standing to sue for damages that include loss of a job interference with future business relations. The suit was brought by Los Angeles attorney Stephen Yagman, noted for his many suits against the Los Angeles police. Law firm fined $267,000 over ‘frivolous’ lawsuit Foley & Lardner and two of its attorneys must pay $267,000 for helping the developer of a controversial condominium project file a frivolous lawsuit against its opponents, a judge ruled. U.S. District Judge Manuel Real of Los Angeles last week sanctioned Foley and two San Diego senior counsel, S. Wayne Rosenbaum and Susanne Washington. Developer Irving Okovita had brought a racketeering lawsuit against Sandy Steers, executive director of the Friends of Fawnskin, and three Forest Service employees who had fought his proposed Marina Point luxury condominium development on Big Bear Lake, Calif. The Oakland, Calif.-based First Amendment Project argued that the suit was aimed at intimidating and harassing Steers. Foley & Lardner said in a statement that it expects to appeal Real’s ruling. Merger views shot upby 40% in 2004 Merger transactions submitted for review by U.S. antitrust regulators in fiscal 2004 increased to 1,454, a jump of more than 40% from the year before, according to a government report released last week. Despite the spike, 2004 resulted in the second-lowest rate of requests by regulators for additional information from merging parties in a decade, or only 2.5% of the filings. Second information requests are the first step in a formal investigation of a merger. The latest statistics were released by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice in compliance with the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act, which requires annual reports to Congress.

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