After previously stating intentions to fight litigation on a case-by-case basis, Merck & Co agreed to pay $4.85 billion to settle claims that its painkiller Vioxx caused heart attacks and strokes. The popular drug was pulled from the market three years ago, and following the recall, suits were filed on behalf of 47,000 claimants across the country. 

Today's announcement prompted immediate reaction among consumer safety attorneys. Law firm web consultants Consultwebs, Inc., represent numerous lawyers and firms who have clients involved in the case and who were eager to comment on the settlement.

"Great news," exclaims Attorney Carlos Diez-Arguelles of Martinez, Manglardi, Diez-Arguelles & Tejedor of Orlando, Florida. "So many people were affected by this case that we're thrilled to see Merck taking steps toward compensation."

"This case once again reinforces the role that plaintiffs' lawyers play in safeguarding the American public," says Attorney J. Christopher Munley of Pennsylvania law firm Munley, Munley & Cartwright, P.C. "The pharmaceutical industry has steadfastly denied that they had any possible life-threatening problems with their products but once again lawyers pierced the cloak of dishonesty to reveal the truth."

Robert K. Jenner, Partner, Janet, Jenner & Suggs, LLC in Baltimore, Maryland commented on the message sent by the settlement. "We are extremely pleased that our hard work uncovering the truth of the dangers of Vioxx resulted in a just result for our clients. The message to all drug makers is clear: you can't make drugs without testing them and warning about their dangers."

"Merck is heading in the right direction," says Attorney Ron Brown of Brown & Crouppen in St. Louis, Missouri. "However, there are literally tens of thousands of plaintiffs involved, so it remains to be seen whether this settlement really provides the compensation people need."

Other lawyers were more guarded about the news, including Attorney Kenneth L. Hardison of North Carolina law firm Hardison & Associates. "While the Merck settlement is a positive step, we must not overlook those plaintiffs who suffered the most. As we discuss settlement details with our clients, we want to be sure that people who experienced truly catastrophic injuries — in some cases death — are not denied their day in court."

Joseph L. Belluck, Partner at Belluck & Fox, LLP in New York, New York was also cautious about rushing to judge the impact of Merck's announcement. "Merck has not yet released settlement details to all plaintiff attorneys, so it's still early to evaluate whether this provides adequate resolution. However, Belluck & Fox remains committed to pursuing our client claims — and we certainly hope that Merck considered the best interests of all 47,000 claimants in reaching this decision."

Attorney Robert A. Kraft, Kraft & Associates, P.C., Dallas, Texas, summed up the sentiments of many regarding today's news. "While the settlement amount seems wholly inadequate, considering the large number of claimants whose lives were lost or shattered due to the negligence of Merck, it is at least heartening to know that the efforts of trial lawyers across the country have forced Merck to abandon its policy of total denial. Merck knew it was facing years of relentless pressure from innocent consumers and their attorneys, and in the face of that pressure Merck has decided to follow a more reasonable path toward closure of these claims."

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