Merck Vioxx Accord Lead Lawyers to Get $315 Million

A lead group of lawyers will get $315.3 million for doing most of the work on lawsuits against Merck & Co. over its Vioxx painkiller while other attorneys who filed suits will share $1.24 billion, a judge ruled.

Lawyers who worked for the so-called common benefit of the plaintiffs in thousands of lawsuits against Merck deserve 6.5 percent of the $4.85 billion settlement, less than the 8 percent they initially sought, said U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon in New Orleans.

Fallon said in August 2008 that lawyers who sued could collect as much as 32 percent of the settlement. The judge ruled yesterday that the $315.3 million in common-benefit fees will come from the total legal fees, leaving $1.24 billion for other lawyers who sued Merck.

“The tension in this case is between the attorneys who have done common benefit work and the primary attorneys who have not,” Fallon ruled. “The undeniable fact remains that the great bulk of the work as well as the expense was borne by the attorneys who performed common benefit work.”

The lawyers doing common-benefit work billed for 562,944 hours at 109 law firms, according to the judge. They took more than 2,000 depositions, reviewed more than 50 million documents, briefed and argued more than 1,000 motions, conducted trials around the U.S., and negotiated a settlement, Fallon ruled.

The lawyers outside the common-benefit group include those who filed suits on behalf of individual clients.

Won 11 Trials

Merck won 11 of 16 Vioxx suits at trial before agreeing in 2007 to settle all claims.

The settlement, announced in November 2007, resolved almost 50,000 claims of Vioxx users who blamed the drug for heart attacks, strokes and lesser injuries.

Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, settled after battling plaintiffs who claimed in state and federal courts that it didn’t adequately disclose Vioxx safety data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, didn’t properly warn doctors and patients of the drug’s risks, and misrepresented the potential harm in marketing materials.

The company reserved $1.9 billion for legal fees.

“The victims got representation for a significant fraction of what Merck paid to its lawyers to fight responsibility,” said plaintiffs attorney Mark Lanier, who won a $253 million jury verdict that was cut to $26.1 million on appeal. Lanier is a member of the common-benefit group.

Fallon has overseen Vioxx lawsuits since February 2005 through a process known as multidistrict litigation.

The case is Vioxx Products Liability Litigation, MDL-1657, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).

To contact the reporters on this story: David Voreacos in Newark, New Jersey, at dvoreacos@bloomberg.net; Jef Feeley in Wilmington, Delaware, at jfeeley@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net.

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