Merck settles Vioxx liability claims for $4.85 billion

WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. Merck has entered into an agreement with the law firms that comprise the executive committee of the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee of the federal multidistrict Vioxx litigation as well as representatives of plaintiffs’ counsel in state proceedings, which, in all, will settle 95 percent of the current claims in litigation against its painkiller drug Vioxx. The amount the company will pay as a result of this settlement is $4.85 billion.

The litigation is centered around claims that the drug caused heart attacks and strokes in thousands of users. The settlement marks a shift in strategy for Merck, which previously said it intended to fight Vioxx litigation on a case-by-base basis rather than consider a broad settlement.

“This agreement is the product of our defense strategy in the United States during the past three years and is consistent with our commitment to defend each claim individually through rigorous scientific scrutiny,” said Merck general counsel Bruce Kuhlik. “Under the agreement, there will be an orderly, documented and objective process to examine individual claims to determine if they qualify for payment.”

“The agreement is structured to provide a significant degree of certainty toward resolving the majority of the outstanding Vioxx product-liability claims in the United States for a fixed amount,” said Richard Clark, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Merck. The drugmaker said it would still defend all claims not included in the settlement. As of now, Merck has won 12 cases and lost five involving Vioxx.

Merck recalled the popular painkiller, which had $2.5 billion in annual sales, in September 2004 after a study showed it doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke in patients taking it for more than 18 months.

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