In one of the largest civil settlements in U.S. history, Merck & Co., the New Jersey-based manufacturer of the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx, recently agreed to pay $4.85 billion to end various Vioxx-related claims in which plaintiffs suffered a heart attack, sudden cardiac death, or stroke. The settlement potentially puts an end to more than 25,000 individual Vioxx lawsuits and several hundred class action cases.

According to various news sources, the plaintiffs in the various suits will receive different payments under the settlement depending on the length of time they took Vioxx and the severity of their injuries. The settlement agreement will only become binding if at least 85 percent of all plaintiffs sign on to the settlement and agree to release Merck from liability. Claimants who do not accept the terms of the settlement will have the option to pursue their own claims.

Merck has been litigating Vioxx claims since 2001. Although the first Vioxx trial resulted in a $253 million verdict against the pharmaceutical company, Merck reports having won eight of the last ten cases to go to juries. Indeed, reports indicate that Merck considers its strategy of taking early cases to trial rather than settling to have proven successful in reducing the magnitude of the universal settlement.

Discussion of a recent Vioxx verdict in Florida state court is available here.

Discussion of a Vioxx-related FDA preemption decision is available here.

Discussion of a Vioxx-related derivative suit against Merck is available here.