Yet Another Vioxx SettlementAug 4, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
In yet another recent legal settlement, Merck & Co has agreed to pay $80 million to settle 190 claims concerning its recalled pain medication, Vioxx, reports Reuters. In a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing, reported Reuters, Merck said it recorded an “$80 million charge” in this year’s second quarter for “the settlement with third-party payors,” including “unions and health insurance plans.”
Last month, we wrote that another settlement was reached in a lawsuit allegedly involving the death of John Henderson, according to the Madison St. Clair Record. Henderson’s wife, Norma Henderson, and her attorneys agreed to accept the proposed settlement in excess of $200,000, said the Madison St. Clair Record. The lawsuit was originally filed against the drug giant on July 9, 2003 and alleged that Vioxx was responsible for the death of Mr. Henderson.
Vioxx was approved for use in the U.S. in 1999, quickly becoming a hit for Merck, with annual sales of $2.5 billion. Vioxx was pulled off the market in 2004 after an analysis of patients using Vioxx linked the defective drug to over 27,000 heart attacks or sudden cardiac deaths in the U.S. from 1999 through 2003. Vioxx was also recalled in over 80 countries that year.
The Vioxx recall spawned thousands of product liability lawsuits and, in 2007, Merck agreed to settle most U.S. Vioxx claims for $4.85 billion. The hundreds of lawsuits that remain are those ineligible for the multi-billion dollar settlement, as well as cases from third-party payors hoping to receive financial compensation monies spent on Vioxx by those payors’ members, said Reuters. Merck also continues to defend lawsuits in other countries, including Australia.
According to Merck’s filing, the recent settlement is for the “190 outstanding private third-party payor claims,” which also include all pending actions in “New Jersey” as well as the “multi-district litigation … consolidated in Louisiana,” reported Reuters. "We can confirm that there have been some discussions with plaintiffs' attorneys about possible resolution of the litigation, but we cannot comment beyond what's been reported in the filing," said Merck spokeswoman Amy Rose, quoted Reuters
Recently, Merck said it was advised, also in the second quarter, that the SEC ended its formal probe of its activities relating to Vioxx, said Reuters, noting that the informal probe that began in November of 2004 was elevated to a formal investigation in January of 2005.
In other recent news, a lawsuit emerged last month in the United States naming a number of federal lawmakers as defendants, including U.S. democratic senators Patrick Leahy (Vermont), Russell Feingold (Wisconsin), and Edward Kennedy (Massachusetts), said Highlands Today in a prior report.
Of interest, the Vioxx trial that is ongoing in Australia has shed new light on the questionable tactics Merck used to market its dangerous painkiller. According to The Australian, Merck orchestrated “patient loyalty programs” that, publicly, seemed to be about increasing “quality of life.” Privately, reported The Australian, Merck was only seeking improved “patient compliance” and retention while doubling “sales potential.” Citing marketing briefs presented in court, The Australian said the drug giant presented a patient program in 2002 developed to calm consumer concern about Vioxx safety and “block” the launch of a rival anti-arthritis drug.