Three years after withdrawing its pain medication Vioxx from the market, Merck announced today that it will pay $4.85 billion to settle 27,000 lawsuits by people who contend they or their family members suffered injury or died after taking the drug.
The settlement, one of the largest ever in civil litigation, comes after nearly 20 Vioxx civil trials over the last two years from New Jersey to California. After losing a $253 million verdict in the first case, Merck has won most of the rest of the cases that reached juries, giving plaintiffs little choice but to settle.
The settlement will help put Vioxx behind Merck, as well as sharply reduce its Vioxx-related legal defense fees, which are now running at more than $600 million annually.
Judges in Louisiana, New Jersey and California, who oversee nearly all the lawsuits, had pressed for a deal before a new wave of trials was scheduled to begin in January.
Plaintiffs will receive different settlement payments depending on the severity of their injuries and the length of time they took Vioxx. The deal becomes binding only if 85 percent of all plaintiffs agree to drop their cases and take the deal.
Based on the fact that the 27,000 suits cover about 47,000 sets of plaintiffs, the average plaintiff will receive just more than $100,000 before legal fees and expenses, which usually swallow 30 percent to 50 percent of payments to plaintiffs. Plaintiffs who do not want to accept the settlement can pursue their own claims, but with so many of the top trial lawyers in the United States agreeing to the deal, they may have difficulty doing so.