Merck & Co. says it will set up a $4.5 billion fund as part of its settlement agreement to resolved the majority of the personal injury claims and lawsuits that have been filed by thousands of plaintiffs who had heart attacks and strokes because they used the painkiller Vioxx. The settlement agreement applies to lawsuits filed in U.S. state and federal courts-ever since Merck withdrew the once-popular painkiller off the market.
In order for the settlement to go into effect, however, at least 38,000 of the plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits against Merck must sign the agreement and its terms. As part of the settlement, any law firm representing plaintiffs in a Vioxx claim or lawsuit must recommend the deal to all clients who are eligible for compensation from the settlement fund.
The settlement amount that a plaintiff can receive would depend on the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries and the amount of time that he or she took Vioxx.
The New York Times says that about 47,000 plaintiffs are part of the 27,000 products liability lawsuits that have been filed against Merck. The average plaintiff could likely receive a little over $100,000 before legal fees and expenses are deducted. Plaintiffs do not have to take part in the agreement, but they could find it a challenge to pursue the case if some of the country’s top litigation attorneys agree to the settlement.
Merck negotiated the settlement with a group of lawyers that represent the majority of the plaintiffs.
If the agreement were to go into effect, the total amount that Merck would pay would not exceed $4.5 billion. The pharmaceutical giant says it plans to defend itself against claims that are not part of the settlement. So far, Merck has won 11 Vioxx lawsuits and lost five others.
Vioxx was recalled in 2004 after studies confirmed that use of the painkiller could increase the risk of stroke and heart attack. Merck withdrew the painkiller from the market on September 30, 2004.
By initially defending itself aggressively by going to trial rather than settling early, Merck was able to reveal some of the weaknesses in cases filed by many plaintiffs who could not prove that taking Vioxx caused their heart attack or stroke. A verdict in August 2005, however, held Merck liable for the death of a man who died after taking Vioxx for less than 12 months. Merck was ordered to pay his widow Carol Ernst $253.5 million.
Merck agrees to pay $4.85 billion in Vioxx settlement, Boston.com/Reuters, November 9, 2007
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