Pharma giant Merck & Co will be doling out $4.85bn in compensation for the side effects of its drug Vioxx. The company has announced the setting up a fund to compensate the victims.
This is however, subject to conditions. To qualify, there must be proof of serious illness and it should have occurred at the most, two weeks after purchase of the drug.
These announcements follow legal claims that Vioxx caused many to suffer heart failure and strokes.
More than 26,000 separate lawsuits were launched against Merck. They alleged Merck had failed to alert users properly to the possible dangers of taking the painkiller. Vioxx is used to treat arthritis and other conditions.
However, Merck has always denied such claims. It maintains that it voluntarily withdrew the drug in September 2004. This it says, was following research suggesting the drug could significantly increase incidence of heart attacks and strokes, if taken for 18 months.
So far, Merck has won 12 cases and lost five.
The firm has welcomed the settlement as "good and reasonable", and ensuring that litigation will not "stretch on for years".
The compensation offer would put at rest 95% of outstanding Vioxx claims. It will not apply to class-action suits with currently more than 260 of them.
The settlement will see Merck paying a fixed amount into a fund. Individual awards will later be made following thorough evaluation of the merits.
Though the payments could be made as early as next August, Merck has given that it reserves the right to withhold settlements if key conditions were not adhered to.
These conditions include: medical proof of serious illness, proof of having bought at least 30 Vioxx pills, proof of having taken Vioxx within two weeks of suffering illness, US resident status or being present in the US during intake of the drug and subjection of at least 85 percent of pending claims to the terms of offer , by 1 March 2008.
"This agreement is the product of our defense strategy in the US during the past three years and is consistent with our commitment to defend each claim individually through rigorous scientific scrutiny," Bruce Kuhlik, Merck's senior vice-president was quoted.
There is a sense of contentment with the lawsuit for those concerned.
"We are grateful that the people at Merck recognized that it was the right thing to do," says Mark Lanier, a Texas-based lawyer who represented the wife of a former marathon runner who died after taking Vioxx for eight months.