Merck to pay $4.85 billion in Vioxx settlement

November 09, 2007|By New York Times News Service.

Three years after withdrawing its pain medication Vioxx from the market, Merck has agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle 45,000 lawsuits by people who claim they or their family members suffered injury or died after taking the drug, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

The settlement, one of the largest ever in civil litigation, comes after nearly two dozen trials in states from New Jersey to California. After losing a $253 million verdict in the first case, Merck has won most of the rest of the cases that reached juries.

The settlement does not end the government investigations that Merck faces. But the settlement will put to rest any fears that Vioxx lawsuits might bankrupt the company, which has spent almost $2 billion defending itself, or even have a significant financial impact.

The settlement payment represents less than one year's profits for the company, the third-largest American drugmaker.

For plaintiffs, the settlement will provide a measure of vindication and financial relief. But the amount is far smaller than Wall Street analysts and lawyers predicted when Merck withdrew Vioxx, and especially after the verdict in the first case.

Merck withdrew Vioxx in September 2004, after a clinical trial proved that it increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

But internal company documents showed that Merck's scientists were concerned about the risks of Vioxx several years earlier.

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