The Vioxx Trials

Quotes from the Texas Jury

On Aug. 19th, 2005, a Texas jury awarded Carol Ernst $253 million after finding Vioxx maker Merck & Co. liable for the 2001 death of her husband, Robert Ernst, a 59-year-old marathon runner and Wal-Mart worker who was taking the arthritis painkiller at the time of his death. Ernst died of a heart attack.

Below are quotes from the jurors following the case that illustrate what they hoped the high award, which included $229 million in punitive damages, would accomplish.

On sending a message to Merck and the drug industry:

• “‘Stop doing the minimum to put a drug on the market,’” juror Derrick Chizer said. ‘Go out there and do your very best. … Merck makes a lot of medicines. They’re staking our lives. Be responsible.’” [The Dallas Morning News, 8/20/05]

• “Juror Derrick Chizer, who voted for Ernst, said the majority of jurors believed a heart attack triggered the Texas man’s fatal arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. ‘It could have been prevented,’ he said. ‘That is the message (to pharmaceutical companies). Respect us.’” [The Associated Press, 8/20/05]

• “[Juror Derrick] Chizer said the message jurors wanted to send to Merck was for the company to take their responsibility seriously. ‘Every life counts to us. They should be responsible. If they care, then show it,’ said Chizer, 43, of Pearland, who works for the Social Security Administration. [The Houston Chronicle, 8/20/05]

• Juror Lorraine Blas: “We wanted to make a statement. We wanted to let all the companies know that they can’t do this. It’s not right. You can’t hide information. You have to give all the information.” [The Early Show, CBS News Transcripts, 8/20/05]

• “‘They needed to be held accountable for putting a drug out there that shouldn’t be out there,’ said Stacy Smith, a 21-year-old child care provider who stood with the majority in the 10-2 vote in favor of the man’s widow, Carol Ernst. ‘I want them to listen,’ said Marsha Robbins, a 53-year-old homemaker who was the presiding juror and the oldest of the panel. … David Webb, a 20-year-old electrician and one of the two youngest jurors on the panel, said he went into deliberations supporting Ernst, ‘but I wanted to give the defendants a chance. We just really didn’t find anything that helped them.’” [Associated Press, 8/19/05]

On Merck’s decision to market Vioxx despite knowing the problems with the drug:

• “One of the jurors, 21-year-old Stacy Smith, said she was shocked at evidence that showed the company knew the dangers of Vioxx long before it withdrew the drug. ‘They knew, and they still put it out anyway,’ she said.” [Sunday Express (U.K.), 8/21/05]

• “Several jurors said that company documents showed Merck seemed to care more about profits from the drug than the public’s welfare. Stacy Smith, 21, said she was swayed by documents written by Merck executives. ‘They knew,’ she said, ‘and they still put [Vioxx] out.’ … Juror Lorraine Blas, 41, said she reviewed several documents in the jury room and found a particularly damaging Merck e-mail on cardiovascular events and testing dating back years. ‘I felt Merck knew something was going on as early as 1997,’ she said. Juror Derrick Chizer, a Social Security service representative, said he was irritated that Merck failed to send any executives who were responsible for bringing Vioxx to market to the trial. ‘Not one bigwig from Merck came down. Not one of them took the time,’ Chizer said. ‘One death in my life would make a difference. Why wouldn’t it make a difference to them?’” [Los Angeles Times, 8/20/05]

• Juror Lorraine Blas: “The evidence there – after reviewing all the evidence in the jury room, I decided from looking at the paperwork they knew the problems this medication was causing and they hid it from us. Rather than telling us the good and the bad, they only told us the good.” [The Early Show, CBS News Transcripts, 8/20/05]

• “‘Merck did not let us know the full problems of the drug,’ juror Rhonda Wade said. ‘I was shocked.’” [The Dallas Morning News, 8/20/05]

• “’This case certainly opened my eyes,’ said juror Rhonda Wade, a 41-year-old mother of four from nearby Clute, Texas. ‘They ignored an FDA warning letter about their marketing and they didn’t give [regulators] all of the information.’ ‘I will probably never take another pill without totally investigating it, questioning my doctor and pharmacists and reading all the information I can,’ Wade said.” [Chicago Tribune, 8/20/05]

• Juror Stacy Smith: “The issue, to me, was, did Merck know before they put the drug on the market, and when they did, why didn’t they do something about it immediately?” [World News Tonight, ABC News Transcripts, 8/19/05]

• ‘”’Look at the evidence,’’ said Marsha Robbins, the forewoman, when asked whether the award was excessive. ‘They knew they had a problem,’’ she said of Merck, the maker of Vioxx. … One factor that swayed the jury, Ms. Blas said, was another look at Merck’s labeling of Vioxx, even after the company began warning doctors that the drug could be linked to ‘cardiovascular events’ like heart attacks and strokes. ‘In the first label, it didn’t jump out at you that C.V. events were happening,’ Ms. Blas said, referring to a cardio vascular event. ‘You had to dig three levels to see it.’” [The New York Times, 8/20/05]

On how the jury determined the punitive award amount:

• Juror Rhonda Wade: “Our award was based on the fact that once they figured out they had no choice to make the [warning] label change, they chose to stall it in order to make as much as $229 million. And we don’t want them to stall. We want them to tell us the truth, and be responsible. … Looking through their evidence, and time after time, you could see where they knew about the CV [cardiovascular] events and how important it was and they didn’t do anything about it. That’s what made up my mind.” [Newsnight with Aaron Brown, CNN, 8/19/05]

• Lisa Stark, ABC News Reporter (Voice Over): “The case against Merck relied heavily on internal company documents including ones that seemed to show Merck knew about possible heart risks, even before Vioxx went on the market. Jurors were also told Merck delayed strengthening Vioxx’s warning label. And that’s how they decided on the amount of punitive damages.” Juror David Webb: “$229 million was the amount of money that Merck would gain if they put off changing the label.” [Good Morning America, ABC News Transcripts, 8/20/05]

• “Carol Ernst was awarded $ 253.45 million Friday, including $ 229 million in punitive damages. ‘That was a number they kept saying over and over,’ juror Stacy Smith, a 21-year-old college student, said. ‘It was in our mind. When you’re sitting there for five weeks and that number kept being repeated, the number stuck in our mind.’” [Houston Chronicle, 8/20/05]

• “Because of caps under state law, Hardin will have to reduce the amount of the punitive damages to $ 1.65 million, making the total $ 26.1 million. Juror Rhonda Wade, 41, of Clute, said those on the seven-man, five-woman jury were not aware of a cap on punitive damages. ‘We assumed that no matter what the number, it would be cut back,’ she said. ‘We wanted to get the message across.’” [The Houston Chronicle, 8/20/05]

• “In interviews after the decision, jurors said they had made the large punitive award to send a message that drug makers must disclose the risks of their medicines. ‘Respect us, that’s the message,’ said Derrick Chizer, a juror. ‘Respect us.’” [The New York Times, 8/20/05]

• “‘When you write that figure ($ 229 million), it means Merck is going to have to get responsible,’ said Rhonda Wade, 41, of Clute. ‘It’s not the money,’ added Marsha Robbins, 53, of Freeport, who served as the presiding juror. ‘It’s accountability.’” [The Houston Chronicle, 8/20/05]

UPDATE As of June, 2007, Merck is facing 16,650 lawsuits filed in different state courts, and an additional 8,400 lawsuits that were filed in Federal Court in New Orleans.

They have promised to fight each case against them vigorously, and have allocated hundreds of millions of dollars towards legal defense in addition to the hundreds of millions that they have already spent.

Of the cases, only fourteen have been resolved, with Merck winning three out of four federal lawsuits and six out of eleven state lawsuits.