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Ten months after a jury in Angleton returned a $253.4 million verdict in the nation’s first Vioxx trial, 23rd District Judge Ben Hardin signed a final judgment awarding the plaintiffs $26.1 million in damages, plus $1.25 million in pre-judgment interest. In a final judgment signed on June 23, Hardin ordered defendant pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. Inc. to pay the plaintiffs $24.45 million in actual damages but reduced the verdict’s $220 million in punitive damages to the statutory cap of $1.65 million. The jury in Carol A. Ernst, et al. v. Merck & Co. Inc. found negligence by Merck was a proximate cause in the death of Robert Ernst, a 59-year-old Wal-Mart employee who died in 2001. The jury also found that a marketing defect in Vioxx and a design defect in the painkiller were producing causes in Ernst’s death. Ernst’s widow and his children sued Merck, based in New Jersey, in 2002. Also on June 23, Hardin denied Merck’s motion seeking a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Plaintiffs’ lawyer W. Mark Lanier, of the Lanier Law Firm in Houston, says he is pleased with the judgment but will appeal it on the grounds that Texas’ statutory cap on punitive damages is unconstitutional. A member of Merck’s trial team, Jonathan Skidmore, a partner in Fulbright & Jaworski in Dallas, says, “We are anxious to get the appellate process started. We think the judgment properly applied the caps under Texas law. We get to go test the verdict now at the next level.”

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