Merck - Vioxx

Company: Merck
Settlement amount: $950 million
Drug: Vioxx
Year: 2011

Vioxx had been a notorious drug for at least 7 years when Merck ($MRK) agreed to pay $950 million to resolve its set of marketing allegations. The dubious distinction of this settlement isn't its size, though $950 million isn't petty cash. Nor is it the claim that Merck hawked Vioxx for an unapproved use--rheumatoid arthritis, in this case. Nor are the allegations that the drugmaker exaggerated the drug's safety and downplayed its risks. Many of the other settlements on this list share those hallmarks.

What sets the Merck settlement apart is the fact that Vioxx can't be sold anymore. The drugmaker pulled the drug in 2004, after data linked Vioxx to increased risks of heart attack and stroke. The Department of Justice says that Merck reps misled doctors about Vioxx's cardiovascular safety to boost sales and that the company lied to state Medicaid programs about the drug's risks. Merck has never admitted wrongdoing in any Vioxx-related legal dispute. But it is the only company among this top 10 that allegedly downplayed a drug's risks--and then pulled the drug for safety reasons.

"We believe that Merck acted responsibly and in good faith in connection with the conduct at issue in these civil settlement agreements, including activities concerning the safety profile of Vioxx," Merck General Counsel Bruce Kuhlik said in a statement at the time. In that same statement, the drugmaker pointed out that Justice officials saw "no basis for a finding of high-level management participation in the [misbranding] violation."

The Vioxx settlement included a $321.6 million criminal fine--for a misdemeanor misbranding violation--and a $628.4 million payment to wrap up civil claims, including those filed by 40 states attorneys general. While that $950 million total looms large enough in the settlement universe, it's less than one-sixth the amount Merck has paid to settle liability lawsuits and other litigation. And it's even smaller fraction of Merck's Vioxx sales. Those revenues amounted to more than $11 billion during the drug's four-plus years on the market.

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Merck - Vioxx