Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Judge queries fairness of Oz Vioxx settlement


Drug company Merck has reached a $500,000 settlement with those who claim the company's arthritis drug Vioxx caused heart problems, but a judge is questioning the fairness of the deal.

More than 1700 group members represented by law firm Slater and Gordon had joined an application against the Australian arm of the international pharmaceutical company over claims its arthritis drug Vioxx caused them heart problems.

Federal Court Justice Christopher Jessup, who must approve of the settlement which will be binding on all group members, on Wednesday said he was concerned about its fairness.

It would result in the proceedings being dismissed and the matter being finalised, meaning that no other claims could be brought in the future against Merck over the drug.

In order to be eligible for compensation under the settlement, group members would have to have suffered a heart attack and been taking Vioxx for a certain period.

Gerard Dalton, representing Slater and Gordon, said successful claimants would receive a maximum $2000 if they were alive and $1500 if they were dead.

If the total payout for living claimants was to exceed $497,500, then that figure would be divided equally among them, he said.

It was estimated that only 200 to 300 claimants would pass the eligibility process, he said.

Justice Jessup said the agreement did not take into account individual circumstances and may not be fair to those group members who had a stronger case against the drug company.

He questioned whether it was fair for the court to make an order that would be binding on people who were not a party to the current proceedings.

"I don't just consider myself to be a street sweeper," Justice Jessup said.

"I really want to know what's really lying around and whether people's interests or rights are being affected.

"I must say that I'm having difficulty coming to grips with why the settlement should be regarded as fair and reasonable in the interests of all group members."

Mr Dalton urged Justice Jessup to approve the settlement. The judge reserved his decision.

Vioxx was withdrawn from sale globally in 2004 following concerns over its side effects.

The drug company was in 2010 ordered to pay a $330,000 compensation to Victorian grandfather Graeme Peterson after Justice Jessup found Vioxx caused him to have a heart attack.

That decision was overturned on appeal to the Full Court but the judgment still allowed others to continue legal action over claims they suffered heart attacks after taking the drug.

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