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Merck Paid 3,468 Death Claims to Resolve Vioxx Suits

Vehicles enter the campus of Merck headquarters
Vehicles enter the campus of Merck headquarters in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey on Dec. 13, 2007. Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg

Merck & Co. paid claims to the families of 3,468 users of its Vioxx painkiller who died of heart attacks or strokes, a court-appointed administrator told a judge today.

A $4.85 billion settlement fund made payments to the families of 2,878 Vioxx users who died of heart attacks and 590 who died of strokes, according to Lynn Greer of BrownGreer LLP, a law firm in Richmond, Virginia, that analyzed 59,365 claims.

Merck pulled Vioxx from the market in 2004 after a study showed it doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Merck set up the fund, which covers claims of death and lesser injuries, in 2007 after reserving $1.9 billion to fight 26,600 Vioxx suits. U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon in New Orleans has overseen Vioxx lawsuits since February 2005 through a process known as multidistrict litigation.

“It’s a remarkable achievement,” Fallon said at a hearing, describing the MDL as the biggest in U.S. history. “We have really finished the large portion of this litigation.”

Merck won 11 of 16 Vioxx suits at trial before agreeing in 2007 to settle all claims. Merck didn’t admit that Vioxx caused injuries under an accord that set out how BrownGreer was to analyze each claim, weighing such factors as a user’s age, their length of use, and their health risks such as obesity or hypertension.

Of the 59,365 original claims, 1,343 were deemed ineligible, leaving 58,022 potentially eligible claims, said Orran Brown, chairman of BrownGreer. Almost 25,000 claims resulted in no payment, he said. He said today that 99.9 percent of claims were resolved under the settlement program.

‘Went So Smoothly’

“We are pleased that the program went so smoothly and we were able to conclude it on schedule and properly,” said Merck attorney Ted Mayer of Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP in New York after the hearing.

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.

Under the program, BrownGreer determined that 20,591 heart attack claims merited payment, including the 2,878 death cases. The average payment for all heart attack cases was $186,825. The payments for fatal heart attacks ranged from $18,743 to $1.79 million, with the average at $374,112.

The law firm concluded that 12,447 stroke claims merited payment, including the 590 death cases. Average payments for all stroke cases was $61,165. Payments for fatal strokes ranged from $5,015 to $818,119, with the average at $119,618.

A total of 1,061 different law firms handled Vioxx claims, Brown told the judge.

“Some of these firms had one client,” Brown told the judge. “Some firms had thousands and thousands of clients.”

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

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