Merck might settle some Vioxx suits


With the number of Vioxx-related lawsuits soaring, the drug's manufacturer, Merck, might consider offering settlements to plaintiffs in a few cases, the company's general counsel, Kenneth C. Frazier, suggested yesterday.

Merck had previously said that it planned to defend every personal-injury lawsuit filed over Vioxx, a painkiller and arthritis medicine that has been shown to raise the risk of heart attacks and strokes. But Frazier said yesterday that Merck would consider settling suits brought by people who took Vioxx for long periods of time and had few other risk factors for heart disease. Nearly 5,000 Vioxx suits have been filed, and tens of thousands more are expected.

Frazier's comments appear to represent a subtle but important shift in strategy for Merck, although he denied that. The issue of possible settlements is extraordinarily sensitive for Merck because of the prospect that plaintiffs' lawyers might file many additional lawsuits if they believe Merck is willing to settle any of them.

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