Merck & Co is celebrating a pair of legal victories after appeals courts in Texas and New Jersey reversed rulings against the firm in liability cases concerning its withdrawn COX-2 inhibitor Vioxx.

The Texas court reversed a 2005 judgment in favour of Carol Ernst, who claimed that her husband's use of Vioxx (rofecoxib) caused his death. In the first Vioxx lawsuit to go to trial, the jury had awarded Ernst $253.4 million in compensatory and punitive damages though that amount was later reduced to about $26.1 million under a state law capping damages.

That judgement has now been overturned and Chief Justice Adele Hedges said in the ruling that “we find no evidence that Ernst suffered a thrombotic cardiovascular event. Accordingly, appellee failed to show that ingestion of Vioxx caused her husband's death."

In New Jersey, the appeals court has overturned the punitive damage and consumer fraud awards of a 2006 verdict in a two-plaintiff trial involving Thomas Cona and John McDarby. However it was a partial victory for Merck as the court let stand the compensatory damages for personal injury to Mr McDarby.

Speaking about the cases, Merck General Counsel Bruce Kuhlik said the firm is “gratified that the Texas appeals court correctly found that Vioxx did not cause Mr Ernst's death” and reversed the previous decision. Coupled with the New Jersey decision, the appeals court decisions have overturned almost $40 million of damages and attorneys fees previously awarded to the plaintiffs, he added, and "we intend to seek further review of the portion of the award that remains standing after the New Jersey decision”. Mr Kuhlik ended by saying that “we continue to believe Merck acted responsibly."

However, Mark Lanier, an attorney who represents both Mrs Ernst and Mr Cona, said he plans to appeal the Texas decision. In a statement, he declared that "activist judges are protecting corporate executives and stripping away the rights of widows and every other victim of corporate misconduct”.

Merck, which has agreed to settle thousands of Vioxx cases in a $4.85 billion agreement, noted that of the 18 plaintiffs whose cases went to trial, only three have outstanding product liability judgments against the company.