Merck: Last Vioxx payouts coming soon from $4.85B fund to settle heart attack, stroke lawsuitsBy Linda A. Johnson, AP
Monday, March 1, 2010
Merck: Last Vioxx patient payouts to be made soon
TRENTON, N.J. — Drugmaker Merck & Co. has made its final, $4.1 billion payment into a fund to settle tens of thousands of U.S. claims that withdrawn painkiller Vioxx caused heart attacks or strokes, the company said in a regulatory filing Monday.
The final payouts to those patients or their survivors, from the $4.85 billion settlement fund, should be made by the end of June, according to the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
About $4 billion of that was reserved for heart attack patients. Their claims have already been processed and either paid or denied.
“The stroke claims are still in progress and final payments are expected to be made sometime in the second quarter of this year,” Ted Mayer, outside counsel for Merck, said in an interview.
He said nearly 18,000 claims involving strokes are in process, and about 7,400 of those resulted in initial payments. Mayer could not immediately say how many of the heart attack claimants received payments and how many were determined not to fit the eligibility rules for claims.
The SEC filing said Merck has finalized some other parts of the sprawling litigation begun after it yanked Vioxx from the market in September 2004 because it doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
That triggered lawsuits from around the world, filed by from Vioxx users or survivors alleging the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based company downplayed the drug’s dangers, which Merck denies. Other suits were filed by shareholders who collectively lost billions of dollars and by insurance plans, unions and individuals wanting to recover money they spent on Vioxx.
In November 2007, Merck reached a $4.85 billion settlement with plaintiff’s lawyers to resolve most of the roughly 50,000 products liability suits alleging Vioxx harmed or killed users.
Some plaintiffs chose not to participate in the settlement; about 355 plaintiff groups, some including multiple patients, still have their individual cases pending, according to the SEC filing. The annual filing covers litigation and many other company matters for 2009.
Three weeks ago, Merck reached a deal to settle a large block of state and federal lawsuits brought by shareholders who lost billions, by appointing two committees and a chief medical officer to monitor drug safety and keep the company honest. Shareholders lost a combined $28 billion when Merck stock plunged overnight after Vioxx was pulled from the market.
Some other shareholder litigation is still pending.
Merck also faces four Vioxx trials this year, two for product liability cases brought by patients who didn’t participate in the settlement and two aimed at recovering costs related to use of the painkiller.
Tags: Cardiovascular Disease, Corporate Governance, Diseases And Conditions, Health Care Industry, Heart Health, New Jersey, North America, Trenton, United States