As of March 2006, there had been over 10,000 cases and 190 class actions filed against Merck over adverse cardiovascular events associated with rofecoxib and the adequacy of Merck's warnings. The first wrongful death trial, Rogers v. Merck, was scheduled in Alabama in the spring of 2005, but was postponed after Merck argued that the plaintiff had falsified evidence of rofecoxib use.
On August 19, 2005, a jury in Texas voted 10-2 to hold Merck liable for the death of Robert Ernst, a 59-year old man who allegedly died of a rofecoxib-induced heart attack. The plaintiffs' lead attorney was Mark Lanier. Merck argued that the death was due to cardiac arrhythmia, which had not been shown to be associated with rofecoxib use. The jury awarded Carol Ernst, widow of Robert Ernst, $253.4 million in damages. This award will almost certainly be capped at no more than USD$26.1 million because of punitive damages limits under Texas law. As of March 2006, the plaintiff had yet to ask the court to enter a judgment on the verdict; Merck has stated that it will appeal.
On November 3, 2005, Merck won the second case Humeston v. Merck, a personal injury case, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The plaintiff experienced a mild myocardial infarction and claimed that rofecoxib was responsible, after having taken it for two months. Merck argued that there was no evidence that rofecoxib was the cause of Humeston's injury and that there is no scientific evidence linking rofecoxib to cardiac events with short durations of use. The jury ruled that Merck had adequately warned doctors and patients of the drug's risk.
The first federal trial on rofecoxib, Plunkett v. Merck, began on November 29, 2005 in Houston, Texas. The trial ended in a hung jury and a mistrial was declared on December 12, 2005. According to the Wall Street Journal, the jury hung by an eight to one majority, favoring the defense. Upon retrial in February 2006 in New Orleans, Louisiana, where the Vioxx multi-district litigation (MDL) is based, a jury found Merck not liable, even though the plaintiffs had the NEJM editor testify as to his objections to the VIGOR study.
In January 2006, Garza v. Merck began trial in Rio Grande City, Texas. The plaintiff, a 71-year-old smoker with heart disease, had a fatal heart attack three weeks after finishing a one-week sample of rofecoxib. The trial is not expected to be completed for several months.
Several other trials are docketed for the first few months of 2006, including the first cases involving long-term use of rofecoxib and the first consolidated cases. Merck has reserved $970 million to pay for its Vioxx-related legal expenses through 2007.