Analyst Sees Low Damage Award If Merck Loses Vioxx Case

March 30, 2006

If the plaintiffs in the Vioxx case currently being tried in New Jersey win, the damage awards against Merck & Co. are likely to be modest and not affect the drugmaker’s ability to manage the financial fallout from the thousands of lawsuits related to the pain killer, a Wall Street analyst wrote.

Jami Rubin, a Morgan Stanley analyst, said this week there is a “decent chance” the jury will find for either of the two plaintiffs who are suing Merck and whose cases are being heard in a single trial. She said the judge’s actions indicate a pro-plaintiff tilt and said she believed the jury isn’t as educated as the panelist in an earlier New Jersey trial who absolved Merck from any responsibility in the heart attack of man who blamed Vioxx for his affliction.

In the current case, Rubin predicted pain and suffering damages in the $1 million (euro830,000) to $2 million (euro1.60 million) range but sees no reason for the jury to award punitive damages because there is no evidence of Merck acting recklessly.

Rubin said that if the plaintiffs win and there are no punitive damages, Merck stock will fall by no more than 5 percent.

The New Jersey trial combines the cases of Thomas Cona and John McDarby, who each blame their long-term use of pain reliever Vioxx for their nonfatal heart attacks. The case is considered significant because it is the first involving patients who took the drug for longer than 18 months. Merck removed Vioxx from the market in September 2004 after a study showed it doubled patients’ risk of heart attack and strokes after 18 months.

The New Jersey trial has entered its fourth week and closing arguments could come by Friday. So far, Merck has won two cases and lost one. It faces over 9,600 lawsuits.

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