The Ernst v. Merck Jury: On Why Punitive Damages Were Warranted, and How They Arrived at the $229 Million Amount
The Association of Trial Lawyers of America ("ATLA"), of which I am a proud member, has compiled selected statements made by some of the jurors who heard the evidence presented during the Ernst v. Merck trial in Texas. These Vioxx juror quotes provide some insight about what inspired this jury to hand down their massive $253 million verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the Ernst case on August 19, 2005 in Brazoria County, Texas.
Part One of this series showed how the Ernst jury believed it was sending a message to Merck and Big Pharma as concerns unsafe drug issues, and Vioxx in particular, by means of its verdict.
Part Two of the series examined how the Ernst jury regarded Merck's decision to market Vioxx despite knowing about the cardiovascular problems associated with their drug.
This third part of the series will delve into how the Ernst jury determined that punitive damages were warranted, and how the jurors arrived at the $229 million punitive damages amount.
Let's get right to the jury's comments about their massive punitive damages award.
• 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]
A final thanks to ATLA for providing the various quotes from members of the Ernst trial jury which were used in this series on the recent Texas Vioxx verdict.
(Posted by: Tom Lamb)