Vioxx Payouts to Begin This MonthAug 21, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Partial settlement payments will soon be in the mail to those people who claim that taking Vioxx caused them to suffer heart attacks, the Associated Press is reporting. Vioxx is the pain reliever that was linked to heart failure and has since been removed from the market. Payments are scheduled to begin being sent on August 28 as part of the $4.85 billion settlement between drug maker Merck & Co. and plaintiffs' lawyers.
This payment mailing comprises about 40 percent of each plaintiff’s estimated total payout; it remains unclear how many plaintiffs will be receiving payments in this initial batch. The settlement is meant to end the majority of the personal injury lawsuits filed against Merck last November. Three years prior, Merck pulled Vioxx after its research confirmed Vioxx doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke.
The amount of eligible, registered claimants is now at 49,954, which comprises over 97 percent of claimants eligible for the settlement. This eligible pool is well above the threshold levels required for the deal to proceed. According to the AP report, Merck waived its right to walk away from the settlement on August 4 and, over the next two days, deposited $500 million in one escrow account and gave claims administrators a letter of credit worth up to $4.1 billion to cover payments to claimants.
Claims administrator BrownGreer PLC is now is reviewing millions of pages of documents submitted by claimants, electronically or on paper, for accuracy and to ensure no documents, especially those releasing Merck from future legal liability, are missing or incomplete. BrownGreer also said 44,680 claimants have submitted at least some of the required materials; those individuals who are missing items are being notified. Also, 3,441 claimants are at the point in which administrators are determining how many points they receive toward a settlement amount, which is determined by a complex formula that takes into consideration the severity of a claimant’s injury, how much Vioxx was taken, and how many health risk factors the person had. "Our projected value of each point (is) in excess of $1,900," according to a BrownGreer representative who added that "it is unprecedented that claims can begin going out in an eight-month period" since the settlement process began.
Settlement amounts can run from $5,000 to a couple of million dollars, the federal government is arranging to be reimbursed for care provided to Vioxx users under the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Also, private insurers are seeking reimbursement and Merck still faces about 260 potential class-action suits, alleging either harm or financial losses related to Vioxx. In addition, two cases have been certified as class action cases in Canada.
The Vioxx case has cost Merck at least $7 billion, including over $1.74 billion through last month on legal costs for defense research and individual trials.
The four-year legal debacle initiated when Merck pulled Vioxx off the market, which prompted tens of thousands of lawsuits. The Vioxx problems adversely affected Merck's previously exemplary reputation and forced out its then-chief executive.