Merck & Co. (MRK), which paid $4.85 billion to resolve lawsuits contending its Vioxx painkiller caused heart attacks, will pay another $23 million to settle claims it duped consumers into buying the drug.
Merck agreed to pay consumers seeking to band together in a nationwide group lawsuit at least $50 each for their economic losses tied to Vioxx, such as prescription costs, according to filings in federal court in Louisiana. A judge in New Orleans has overseen litigation spawned by the drug since 2005.
“This settlement is a fair, efficient and reasonable resolution of the disputed claims,” consumers’ lawyers said in a July 17 filing seeking preliminary approval of the accord.
The settlement comes as Merck continues efforts to wrap up litigation over Vioxx that has cost the drugmaker more than $5.8 billion. Along with the $4.85 billion settlement of patients’ suits in 2007, Merck paid $950 million four years later as part of a criminal plea to end a U.S. government probe of its Vioxx marketing practices.
Merck agreed to pay “all properly documented claims submitted by class members and approved attorneys’ fees and expenses” as part of the settlement, Lainie Keller, a Merck spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.
Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1999, Vioxx became Merck’s third-largest-selling drug by 2003, generating $2.5 billion in annual sales. The company pulled Vioxx off the market in 2004 after studies found it posed an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Government regulators and plaintiffs’ lawyers contend Merck officials sold Vioxx for unapproved uses and made false statements about its cardiovascular safety.
Purchasers of the drug sued Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, claiming they were duped into buying the painkiller by the company’s misleading statements about its safety and effectiveness. Consumers sought to combine their claims in a nationwide class-action case.
Under terms of the settlement, consumers can request payments for “out-of-pocket costs for purchasing Vioxx and up to $75 in connection with a post-withdrawal medical consultation related to Vioxx use,” according to court filings.
Otherwise, they can seek a one-time payment of as much as $50 if they can provide proof they were prescribed Vioxx.
“The damages allegedly suffered by the settlement class members are not sufficient to warrant individual litigation,” consumers’ lawyers said in court filings.
U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon in New Orleans still must approve the settlement.
Last year, Merck agreed to pay $220 million to resolve consumer-fraud lawsuits filed on behalf of Missouri residents over Vioxx. Lawyers argued the company violated the state’s consumer protection laws with its marketing of the drug. The national settlement doesn’t cover Missouri claims, Merck officials said.
The purchasers’ settlement case is part of Vioxx Products Liability Litigation, 2:05-md-01657, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).
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