Our Chicago personal injury attorneys have, in the past, commented on the lack of corporate responsibility and honesty that leads drug makers to put the health and safety of patients and the public behind the drive for corporate profits. As the Merck-Vioxx litigation draws to a close, one point is abundantly clear: even when pharmaceutical corporations are forced to take financial responsibility for the harm they cause, they still will not take actual responsibility by owning up to their behavior and the mistakes they have made.
The litigation over Merck’s popular painkiller, Vioxx, began about six years ago. In 2004, the drugmaker pulled Vioxx off the market after an independent study revealed that the drug increased the risk of heart attack and stroke. Victims alleged that Merck withheld negative information from the FDA when seeking approval of the drug, and mislead both physicians and patients as to the risks of the drug both through a failure to provide adequate warnings and through the use of misleading marketing materials.
As the dangers of Vioxx became clear, literally thousands of victims came forward, with a total of nearly 60,000 claims eventually filed nationwide. Using a process known as federal multidistrict litigation, these claims were consolidated to be overseen by a single judge: in this case, U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon of New Orleans. After initially fighting a number of these suits – and reserving billions of dollars to do so, Merck agreed to a settlement, including a settlement fund of $4.85 billion.
It is the administration of that settlement that is now drawing to a close. Over the course of that administration, 1,343 of the 59,365 claims were deemed ineligible. Each remaining claim was evaluated by looking at various factors including the victim’s age, other risk factors for heart attack and stroke, and the amount of time the victim took Vioxx. Nearly 25,000 additional claims were denied payment after this review.
The remaining claimants were then awarded varying levels of compensation. Of the victims who had suffered a heart attack, 20,591 were awarded payment. The average compensation awarded to these victims was $186,825. Of these victims, there were 2,878 who suffered a fatal heart attacks. For these individuals, the amount awarded to surviving family or the victim’s estate averaged $374,112, with a range of $18,743 to $1.79 million.
Of those victims who suffered a stroke, 12,447 were awarded payment under the settlement administration program. The average payment to these victims was $61,165. As to the 590 victims who suffered a fatal stroke, the average compensation was $119,618, with a range of $5,015 to $818,119.
Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys offer our congratulations to the more than 1,000 law firms and innumerable attorneys at those firms who were involved in obtaining financial compensation for these thousands of victims of corporate negligence and greed. But we cannot help but wonder: was justice done here?
Certainly, the result was expedient. Both the attorneys and Judge Fallon commented on the smooth, speedy resolution of the claims through the settlement fund administration, rightly noting that it was a model for effective multidistrict litigation and settlement administration. Equally certainly, certain plaintiffs would have fared better were the cases been tried, while others would have fared worse. But one more thing is plain: had the cases all proceeded to trial, Merck would have been found liable for its bad conduct, with a public declaration of that wrongdoing by the various juries.
As it is, Merck has paid the price for its misconduct, but has not truly faced the consequences. Our Chicago wrongful death attorneys understand that demanding an admission from the company would have been an insurmountable roadblock to settlement. But we cannot help but note that there is something fundamentally wrong with allowing a company to pay several billion dollars to victims but maintain its innocence.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.