And Now, for the Final Settlement– the Envelope Please!

November 9, 2007

Merck Agrees to Settle Vioxx Suits for $4.85 Billion

Three years after withdrawing its pain medication Vioxx from the market, Merck has agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle 27,000 lawsuits by people who claim they or their family members suffered injury or died after taking the drug, according to two lawyers with direct knowledge of the matter.
The settlement, one of the largest ever in civil litigation, comes after nearly 20 Vioxx civil trials over the last two years 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, giving plaintiffs little choice but to settle.
The settlement will help put Vioxx behind Merck, as well as sharply reduce its Vioxx-related legal defense fees, which are now running at more than $600 million annually.
. . . “It’s a fantastic deal,” said Danny Becnel, a Louisiana lawyer who said he represented about 1,000 plaintiffs. Mr. Becnel credited Judge Eldon E. Fallon of Federal District Court, who is overseeing the federal lawsuits from his court in New Orleans, with pressing the two sides to the table.


Well Danny, it’s a fantastic deal for trial lawyers, who get half the $4.5 billion. That’s a little over $2,250 million to the ambulance chasers.
Meanwhile, if precedent means anything, there’s many a slip twixt the tee-off and the final hole. In the famous $130 billion tobacco settlement, our clear-eyed Attorney General, operating in your and my best interests, downsized the deal to $10 billion. That, if your calculator’s not handy, is a 92% reduction.
So, we’ll just have to see what happens to Merck. We already know what Vioxx did to tens of thousands of its users–killed or permanently injured them. That will not stop Merck from mounting the double-page spreads in glossy magazines, direct marketing their drugs to users. But it will allow Danny Becnel and others like him to retire and (if it pleases them) wallow in wealth.
Now, the winner in Decade’s Most Damaging Drug Category–may I have the envelope please!

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