By Nate Raymond and Jessica Dye
NEW YORK Dec 9 Merck & Co Inc said on
Monday that it was prepared to pay $27.7 million to settle
lawsuits by hundreds of people who sued the company over
allegations that its osteoporosis drug Fosamax caused bones in
the jaw to deteriorate.
Lawyers for Merck and plaintiffs disclosed the proposed
settlement at a court hearing in New York to resolve 1,140
lawsuits pending in federal and state courts. Any settlement
would need to be approved by a judge.
Merck, which confirmed the agreement later on Monday, said
the accord requires a 100 percent participation rate and
evidence that the claimants satisfy eligibility requirements.
The deal covers about 1,200 people, the company said.
"We hope to bring this to a successful conclusion," Paul
Strain, a lawyer for Merck, said at the hearing in U.S. District
Court in Manhattan before Judge John Keenan, who has presided
over federal litigation by plaintiffs claiming that they
developed osteonecrosis of the jaw from taking Fosamax.
The condition is a disease that causes bones in the jaw to
deteriorate or die.
The settlement would resolve a large portion of the 5,255
product liability cases facing Merck over Fosamax, a one-time
blockbuster drug with $3 billion in sales in 2007.
Sales have declined since Fosamax lost patent protection in
2008. Through September, Merck had reported $421 million in
Fosamax sales in 2013.
Of the lawsuits over Fosamax, about 860 of the cases were
before Keenan. Since the cases were consolidated in 2006, Keenan
has presided over all of the federal cases.
The judge had held a series of "bellwether" trials, allowing
Merck and plaintiffs' lawyers to assess trends and outcomes in
The last Fosamax trial before Keenan resulted in a $285,000
verdict for plaintiff Rhoda Scheinberg in February.
Merck lost just one other of the five bellwether trials when
a jury awarded Florida resident Shirley Boles $8 million. The
judge later cut that sum to $1.5 million.
Merck won two other trials in a New Jersey state court over
jaw injuries plaintiffs blamed Fosamax for.
At Monday's hearing, Timothy O'Brien, a plaintiffs' lawyer
with Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor,
said that plaintiffs' law firms had until Jan. 13 to signify
their intent to participate in the settlement process.
Plaintiffs have until March 31 to opt-out of the settlement,
the Merck lawyer, Strain, of law firm Venable said after
Monday's hearing. He said Merck has until May 15 to decide
whether or not it will go forward with the deal.
Merck said in a statement that the settlement does not cover
the 4,115 lawsuits the company continues to face by people
claiming to have sustained femur fractures or other bone
injuries due to taking Fosamax.
The case is In Re Fosamax Products Liability Litigation,
U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No.