The end of a huge lawsuit against drug maker Merck occured Friday.
More than 45,000 people nationwide filed suit against the company after suffering heart attacks, strokes and sudden cardiac deaths.
Today, a settlement has been reached after years of testimony tied those problems to the drug Vioxx.
Montgomery lawyer Jere Beasley represents ten to twelve thousand people included in that suit.
For Beasley, the court fight over Vioxx started even before drug maker Merck recalled the pain reliever in 2004.
Each case was a little different and unique in that you could have liability so far as fault, but you’d still have to prove specific causation, that vioxx caused the heart attack or stroke, and did it cause the injuries that resulted?
The settlement means more than 46,000 people will get a payout of $4.8 billion dollars, the largest drug settlement in the nation’s history.
Beasley and others claimed not only that Merck’s drug caused heart attacks, strokes and sudden death-but that the company knew it and covered it up because of the huge profits it reaped.
Don Hubbard is a former Vioxx user and a victim of its effects.
"After taking Vioxx that morning, I couldn’t get up 20 minutes later. My wife rushed me to the hospital. I learned I had a stroke," Hubbard remembers.
Beasley had taken four Vioxx cases to juries and won half of them.
Merck has won ten of 15 cases in court, and some experts say even if that trend continued, the company would still pay $50 billion in the legal fight.
It now settles for about a tenth of that, but Beasley says it’s a good deal.
"If I’ve ever had a settlement that I thought was fair for both sides, without question, it would be this one," he says.
Before anyone can get paid, 85% of all the plaintiffs have to sign off on the deal.
According to this agreement, no two plaintiffs will get the same amount, even if they suffered similar deaths or injuries.
The settlement team agreed to pro-rate the damages based on a number of risk factors, such as previous sickness, and smoking and family history.
That means that even with today’s settlement, for some the wait will last years.
Meanwhile, Beasley says he anticipates some other large drug cases in the near future over Celebrex and Bextra.