People who suffered heart attacks while taking Vioxx could receive a partial settlement check as early as next month.
Merck & Co., the maker of Vioxx, said more than 97 percent of nearly 50,000 claimants agreed to terms of the $4.85-billion settlement announced last fall. The fund will be used to settle claims of people who had legal action pending against the drugmaker and suffered cardiac arrest, heart attack or stroke as a result of taking Vioxx.
Merck pulled Vioxx off the market in September 2004 after its research showed the arthritis drug doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke. That triggered thousands of lawsuits from patients and their families. Though Merck won most of the legal cases that went to court, its costs mounted to more than $1.53-billion. In November, it agreed to the settlement plan, one of the largest civil settlements ever.
Reflecting its success in court, Merck was able to set strict criteria for the awards. Lawyers participating in the settlement also had to recommend the deal to all their clients and stop representing anyone who wanted to continue to pursue a lawsuit.
According to terms of the agreement, those eligible had to have medical and drug records showing they used Vioxx for more than 12 months, during which time they died or had a heart attack or ischemic stroke.
Joseph Saunders, a lawyer in Pinellas Park who represents about 30 Vioxx cases, estimated that only 25 to 30 percent of the claimants will qualify for a share of the settlement. "And the amounts people receive will depend on how many are disqualified," he said.