Merck & Co. Inc., which made the controversial arthritis painkiller Vioxx, just settled an unusual class-action lawsuit involving Missouri residents who sued on consumer-fraud grounds without having shown that they incurred physical harm. The economic argument was that Vioxx did not provide what Merck claimed it would.
Vioxx was on the market from 1999 until it was withdrawn in 2004 because previously hidden clinical trials showed that it caused increased risk of heart attacks.
Merck has large operations in the Philadelphia region.
Though Merck had an appeal pending in federal court, the settlement came before a jury trial was to start in Jackson County. Kansas City attorney Patrick Stueve said in a statement, "We have secured full relief for the class through this settlement."
County Judge Marco Roldan must approve the agreement, which calls for Merck to pay $39 million to $220 million, depending on how many members of the class are certified.
Under the proposed plan, consumers have two options for getting money back, both based on a one-month drug cost of $90. Patients can get a onetime payment of $180 if they submit a claim with a declaration under oath, but provide no proof. This option could work for patients who don't have paperwork from the time period (1999-2004).
The second option is a claim for $90 for each month of Vioxx purchases by declaring under oath and providing proof of payment. A letter from the doctor who wrote the prescription could suffice. Hypothetically, if someone took the drug for five full years, it could mean $5,400.
"This agreement is in the best interest of the company and its shareholders," Bruce N. Kuhlik, Merck executive vice president and general counsel, said in a statement. "It reduces the uncertainty of litigation and ongoing defense costs, and helps us to remain focused on bringing forward innovative products and services for our customers."