Merck settles Vioxx claims for $4.85 billion

Marilyn Tennissen Nov. 9, 2007, 5:41am

Facing more than 25,000 individual Vioxx lawsuits and several hundred class action cases, drugmaker Merck has agreed to settle out of court for $4.85 billion.

One of the largest civil settlements ever reached, it represents only a fraction of the company's potential liability, which was somewhere between $10 billion and $25 billion.

The painkiller was associated with increased heart attack risk. The FDA estimated that Vioxx killed about 30,000 people between 1999 and 2003.

Merck argued that these elevated risks were misleading and that the drug could actually protect against heart attacks. The pharmaceutical company recalled the drug in 2004 and it was re-approved the next year by the FDA with additional label warnings.

Merck reported Nov. 9 that the settlement does not include some cases that were won in jury trials because they are on appeal. The company has spent about $1.9 billion in defense costs of Vioxx litigation.

About 60,000 claims have been filed against Merck claiming Vioxx injuries and the company expects about 50,000 of those to be a part of the settlement.

The first Vioxx trial was held in Texas in August 2005, with Houston attorney Mark Lanier representing the plaintiff. A jury awarded widow Carol Ernst $253 million, but that settlement will be reduced to around $26 million.

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