Merck proposes $4.85B Vioxx settlement

Pharmaceutical giant Merck mrk will pay $4.85 billion to settle most of the nearly 27,000 pending Vioxx lawsuits nationwide in one of the largest civil agreements ever, the company announced Friday.

If certain conditions are met, the company said, it will place the settlement amount into a fund to pay the claims of qualifying victims, with the first payments to start as soon as August 2008.

The deal, if finalized, could largely quell legal and financial uncertainty that began swirling around Merck in 2004, when the company pulled Vioxx off the market in response to a scientific test that showed the painkiller doubled the risk of heart attack or stroke in some circumstances.

Under the deal, Merck would set up two funds for Vioxx lawsuit plaintiffs who suffered either a heart attack or stroke. The first, for $4 billion, would cover those who suffered myocardial infarctions, or heart attacks. The second, for $850 million, would cover those who suffered ischemic strokes.

The deal requires that law firms coordinating much of the Vioxx litigation recommend participation to all clients who suffered a heart attack or stroke. The agreement would become final only if 85% of the plaintiffs drop their lawsuits and participate.

The agreement is not a class-action settlement that covers all plaintiffs. Instead, each claim will be evaluated individually.

Alleged Vioxx victims must meet a series of tests. First, they must have medical proof of having suffered a heart attack or a stroke. They must also show they received at least 30 Vioxx pills. Finally, they must have evidence that they received sufficient pills to have ingested the painkiller medication within 14 days before suffering the heart attack or stroke.

Until Friday, Merck's strategy had been to try each case individually. The company won 11 and lost five of the Vioxx lawsuits that have already gone to verdict.