The $4.85 billion Vioxx settlement announced by Merck & Co. in 2007 will include payments to the families of over 3,000 people who died of a heart attack or stroke while taking the now-withdrawn painkiller, according to a report on Bloomberg.com.
Vioxx was approved for use in 1999, and quickly became a blockbuster for Merck, with annual sales of $2.5 billion. However, the painkiller was pulled off the market in 2004 after an analysis of patients using Vioxx linked the defective drug to more than 27,000 heart attacks or sudden cardiac deaths in the U.S. from 1999 through 2003.
The withdrawal prompted thousands of product liability lawsuits that claimed Merck didn’t properly warn doctors and patients of the drug’s risks. To settle most of those suits, Merck established a $4.85 billion fund in November 2007. According to this weekend’s Bloomberg report, the fund will pay about 3,000 claims for heart attack deaths and at least 122 strokes.
“We don’t know any drug right now with this number of deaths associated with it,” one plaintiffs’ attorney who has represented Vioxx victims told Bloomberg.
Families of heart attack victims who died will get an average payment
Families of heart attack victims who died will get an average payment of about $374,000, Bloomberg said. Some will get as little as $5,000 and others more than $1.5 million, depending on the user’s age, how long they took the drug and whether they had health risks such as obesity or hypertension. The fund will also pay “an unspecified number” of claims on behalf of Vioxx users whose deaths didn’t meet the criteria for payments related to the drug’s use.
According to Bloomberg, the law firm administering the $4.85 billion settlement fund says $1.4 billion will be paid to heart attack claimants. The firm will pay most of the balance of the $4 billion fund to more than 20,000 claimants after Sept. 30. Stroke claimants have received $69.8 million of the $850 million so far. Claimants’ lawyers will be paid as much as $1.55 billion of the settlement fund, Bloomberg said.
The settlement does not require that Merck make any admission of causation or fault.