$894M deal ends most of Pfizer's lawsuits

ByABC News
October 18, 2008, 8:28 AM

TRENTON, N.J. -- Drug giant Pfizer Inc. has reached an $894 million deal to end most of the lawsuits over its two prescription pain relievers, the popular Celebrex and a similar drug, Bextra, no longer on the market.

The world's biggest drugmaker said Friday it has agreements in principle to end more than 90% of personal injury lawsuits brought by people claiming the pills caused heart attacks, strokes or other harm.

The settlement includes roughly 7,000 personal injury cases, mainly plaintiffs who took since-withdrawn Bextra, said plaintiff attorney Perry Weitz. He represents nearly 2,000 claimants, about 10% of them relatives of people who died.

"It gives Pfizer closure and the claimants their money sooner, rather than later or never at all," Weitz said.

Pfizer hopes to finalize claims covered by the settlement, which now includes up to 92% of plaintiffs, by year's end. It also hopes to include many of the remaining claimants in the settlement and will fight any remaining personal injury suits with court motions or at trial, General Counsel Amy Schulman told The Associated Press.

"I don't think either side has an interest in protracting this," Schulman said in an interview.

Weitz said plaintiff lawyers will "have issues" with Pfizer "if their claimants aren't paid before the end of the year."

In early trading, Pfizer shares were down 47 cents, or 2.8%, at $16.50.

Schulman said the deal comes after two important court rulings one by a New York state judge overseeing many of the state-level personal injury cases and the other by a federal judge in San Francisco coordinating pretrial steps in federal lawsuits over the drugs.

"We teed up some pretrial motions for a court ruling on whether there was significantly reliable evidence that would allow an expert to testify as to whether there was an increased risk of heart attack and stroke at the most common dose," 200 milligrams, Schulman said. Both judges ruled that was not the case, she said.

The proposed deal also would end suits by insurers and patients seeking to recover what they spent on Bextra and Celebrex, as well as claims by 33 states and the District of Columbia that Pfizer improperly promoted Bextra.