Last month at the monthly MDL status conference, the conclusion of the Vioxx Settlement Program was announced. Judge Fallon highlighted the efficiency and timeliness of this remarkable achievement. The enormity of the achievement is revealed in the numbers. The settlement program was available to 58,022 potentially eligible Claimants, of which 99.9% chose to participate in the voluntary settlement program. For eligible Claimants, proof of Vioxx usage records and medical records were submitted as a claims package and individually evaluated according to objective criteria, such as: age at the time of the heart attack, stroke or sudden cardiac death; length of stay in the hospital; type of procedure (e.g., stent, bypass surgery); and risk factors. Claims package material was received electronically or by hard copy. In the claims process, 598,830 records were received for evaluation.
To ensure correctness and fairness, several layers of review were built into the settlement process. Initially claims were reviewed by Brown Greer, the court-appointed Claims Administrator. Then, another layer of review was provided by the Gates Committee, which was comprised of Plaintiff representatives and Merck representatives. Finally, a third layer of review by a court-appointed Special Master was available, at a Claimant’s request. After all claims were evaluated to ensure that all legitimate claims were paid, 33,075 Claimants received compensation for a Vioxx-related injury.
The settlement agreement was signed and announced on November 9, 2007. In less than one year, initial payments began. In less than two years, all payments from the $4 billion heart attack fund were made. Approximately two and one-half years from the announcement of the settlement, all payments were completed including heart attack claims, stroke claims and extraordinary injury claims. In sum, the $4.85 billion settlement program provided payments to over 33,000 Claimants in less than three years!
Many much smaller settlement programs have taken as much as three times longer to get victims’ claims paid. The efficiency and fairness of this litigation and settlement program should serve as a model for future mass torts cases. While it is tragic to anticipate future cases where thousands of victims will suffer injury or death as result of a dangerous drug, medical device or other product, this is the unfortunate reality that we face. Until it is no longer profitable for companies to ignore or downplay safety signals, we will continue have tragic cases such as Vioxx. Our firm will continue to fight for victims, seek to hold companies accountable, and obtain reasonable compensation for injuries.
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