U.S. District Judge Elden Fallon, who is overseeing all federal Vioxx lawsuits filed against Merck & Co. over their recalled painkiller, ruled this week that attorney fees on a $4.85 billion global Vioxx settlement will be capped at 32 percent.
Over 50,000 people have agreed to participate in the the Vioxx settlement to obtain compensation for heart attacks and strokes suffered while taking the drug.
While most of these claimants retained lawyers over three years ago under agreements which call for attorney fees between 33.3% and 40%, the judge has indicated that no attorneys can exceed 32 percent. This order was issued to ensure that all fees are reasonable given the circumstances of the case.
Vioxx (rofecoxib) was a prescription drug used for treatment of chronic pain from arthritis and other conditions which cause acute pain. Before it was recalled on September 30, 2004 over concerns that it increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes, over 80 million people worldwide took the drug.
On November, 9, 2007, Merck & Co reached a global settlement with plaintiffs attorneys to end the Vioxx litigation. Under the terms of the agreement, Merck agreed to pay $4.85 billion into a fund which will be used to compensate qualifying claimants under a complex calculation based on the injuries and pre-existing risk factors. Out of the Vioxx settlement, $4 billion was designated for individuals who suffered a heart attack, and the remaining $850 million was designated for those who suffered an ischemic stroke.
Over the past ten months, about 871 law firms representing clients who are participating in the settlement have been working to document their clients’ claims and establish their eligibility for compensation. However, the judge indicated that the global settlement has streamlined much of the work that must be done by the lawyers, justifying the reduced Vioxx attorney fees.
The order does allow a smaller group of Vioxx lawyers who worked on the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee to receive fees in excess of 32 percent. However, these additional fees will be collected from other attorneys’ fees, not from the claimants. These additional fees are being allowed, as the attorneys helped collect and review thousands of documents and performed other work during pretrial discovery. They also helped negotiate the global Vioxx settlement.
The first Vioxx settlement checks are supposed to be issued this week for about 40% of the expected claim, on a first come first serve basis for those who suffered from heart attacks. Payments under the Vioxx settlement for stroke cases are expected to begin in February 2009.