Web Date: November 9, 2007
Merck To Pay $4.85 Billion In Vioxx Settlement
More than three years after the withdrawal of the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx, Merck & Co. has taken a giant step toward putting the debacle behind it. The company has signed a deal with plaintiffs to pay $4.85 billion into a settlement fund that will effectively resolve the majority of outstanding claims related to Vioxx.
"This is a good and responsible agreement that is structured to provide a significant degree of certainty toward resolving the majority of the outstanding Vioxx product liability claims in the U.S. And it does so with a fixed amount," Merck CEO Richard T. Clark told investors in a conference call this morning.
Merck pulled Vioxx from the market in September 2004 after the release of studies linking the drug to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Thousands of people subsequently filed lawsuits against the company, claiming they were injured by the drug.
"This simply was the right thing to do, and we're grateful that the people at Merck recognized that it was the right thing to do," says W. Mark Lanier, lead counsel for the first Vioxx trial. That trial, held in 2005 in Texas, resulted in a $253 million verdict for plaintiffs.
The settlement has been carefully mapped out to avoid any loopholes that could enable new plaintiffs to jump on the bandwagon. Only cases that were filed by Nov. 8 can tap into the fund, and patients must clear three hurdles to qualify: Only myocardial infarction or ischemic stroke patients will be eligible; the patient must be able to prove having received at least 30 Vioxx pills; and patients must be able to prove they received enough pills to have taken them within 14 days of the cardiac event.
At least 85% of the qualified plainiffs must agree to the terms in order for the fund to take effect; payments are likely to be doled out beginning in August 2008.
Merck has already set aside roughly $1.9 billion to defend itself against Vioxx claims. The firm acknowledges that, without the settlement, it could spend years and much more money defending itself in court. To date, Merck has lost five of 17 lawsuits related to Vioxx, and it is named in an additional 26,600 suits.
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