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Retired FBI agent Gerald Barnett, who claims that the painkiller Vioxx caused his 2002 heart attack, must choose between $1.6 million and a retrial of his claims, a federal judge ruled. Last September a jury awarded Barnett $1 million in punitive damages and $50 million in compensatory damages, but U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon ordered a retrial on damages, ruling that $50 million in compensatory damages was “excessive under any conceivable standard of excessiveness.”

Taking evidence into consideration, Fallon ruled that $600,000 is a reasonable amount for compensatory damages. Barnett’s attorney, Mark Robinson, declared that he would advise his client to accept the reduced damages.

Drug maker Merck & Co. stopped selling Vioxx in 2004 in response to evidence linking the painkiller with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Merck did, however, file a motion for a new trial on all issues, but was denied when Fallon ruled that it was sufficient that a jury found Merck liable of negligence for concealing risks from Barnett’s doctors.

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