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HARLINGEN, Texas — A judge in a Texas widow’s lawsuit over the Merck & Co. drug Vioxx on Thursday reduced a $32 million jury award to about $7.75 million, citing Texas’ recently enacted caps on punitive damages. The state jury in April found Merck & Co. liable for the death of Leonel Garza, a 71-year-old man who had a fatal heart attack within a month of taking the since-withdrawn painkiller. The company was ordered to pay the Garza family $7 million in non-economic compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. But Judge Alex Garza, in a Rio Grande City courtroom, ordered the punitive damage reduced as required by state law. The law caps punitive damages at twice the amount of economic damages � lost pay � and up to $750,000 on top of non-economic damages. Because Garza was retired, the jury awarded no economic damages, so Merck was ordered to pay the most the family could receive under state law. A spokesman for Merck’s outside legal counsel said the company was seeking a new trial based on “the undisclosed financial relationship” between the plaintiff and one of the jurors. Merck attorneys in September were granted access to bank and cell phone records they said would show an improper financial relationship between juror Jose Manuel Rios and Felicia Garza, the widow.

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