Merck Asks Judge to Reduce $47.5 Million Vioxx Award to Idaho Man

July 17, 2007

Merck & Co. is urging a New Jersey judge to slash a jury’s $47.5 million award to an Idaho postal worker who successfully sued the drugmaker over a heart attack he blamed on Merck’s since-withdrawn Vioxx painkiller.

Frederick “Mike” Humeston, 61, of Boise, won the award in March 2006 in his second trial against Merck. He had lost the first trial, then was granted a new one by Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee in light of new evidence.

The second jury awarded Humeston and his wife $20 million in compensatory damages, plus $27.5 million in punitive damages, for the 2001 heart attack.

In Higbee’s Atlantic City courtroom last week, Merck attorney Matt Shors urged the judge to reduce both the punitive and compensatory damages.

He said afterward that the $20 million was more than 27 times the $730,000 limit on compensatory damages in Idaho. Shors also argued the punitive damages were influenced by improper argument by Humeston’s lawyers.

Higbee did not say when she would rule on the motions.

Humeston’s lawyer, Chris Seeger, said “I’m optimistic there won’t be any big reduction.”

Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck also has requested a third trial in the case; that request was not discussed Friday.

The $47.5 million total awarded to Humeston is the third-highest jury award against Merck in the massive litigation over its former blockbuster arthritis pill, which it withdrew from the market in September 2004 after research showed Vioxx doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke. It is fighting more than 27,000 lawsuits one by one.

So far, Merck has won nine cases and lost five that have reached verdicts; it is appealing all its losses and faces retrials involving three other plaintiffs.

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