US drug firm Merck & Co, which is facing thousands of claims relating to its former best selling drug Vioxx, a painkiller that has been withdrawn, has been hit hard by a US jury awarding damages of $20 million (approximately Rs87.9 crore).
Vioxx, launched in 1999, and became a best-selling anti-inflammatory drug, used primarily to treat arthritis. However, it was recalled from the market in September 2004 after a study established that it could also double the risk of heart attacks.
The New Jersey jury ruled that Vioxx had contributed to a 61-year old man's heart attack, who had taken the drug for knee pain. The jury awarded the victim $18 million as damages and another $2 million to his wife.
The patient had previously lost a suit against Merck. The jury in the second case found that Merck had failed to provide adequate warnings about the health risks associated with Vioxx.
The judgement has now opened the doors for the jury to now assess punitive damages against Merck. Merck faces some 7,000 outstanding lawsuits connected to Vioxx, with estimated potential liabilities around $5 billion.