Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Merck defective product suits may settle for $100 million

Risks accompany the use of all drugs, whether they are over-the-counter or prescription medications. Labels and information in prescription packets guide the safe use of drugs, but parties responsible for defective products and consumer injuries are drug manufacturers.

Medications are assumed to be safe by Pittsburgh doctors and patients, but not necessarily without risks or side effects. Drug companies that fail to warn the public about medication dangers can be held liable for patient harm.

The second largest drug seller in America wants to put its legal problems over the contraceptive NuvaRing behind it. Merck hopes to settle up to 3,800 negligence lawsuits piled up in state and federal courts nationwide by paying $100 million.

A judge has agreed conditionally to the settlement, which would free the drug maker from admitting any wrongdoing. A state court said the offer could stand, provided 95 percent of the plaintiffs agreed to accept it.

Plaintiffs have alleged Merck's NuvaRing, a pregnancy-preventing vaginal insert, is an unsafe hormonal product. Litigants argued and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed the contraceptive's users are at high risk for life-threatening, vein-blocking blood clots. The legal claims say Merck concealed what it knew about NuvaRing's dangerous, possible side effects.

In 2013, Bayer AG paid $1.6 billion to settle lawsuits with similar claims. Bayer had been accused of selling birth-control medications that endangered users.

Legal observers said the Merck settlement may be far less than Bayer's was, because Merck plaintiffs carry a heavier burden of proof. Seven NuvaRing cases were dismissed in 2013 because plaintiffs could not produce evidence of injuries. Although the FDA issued a warning about NuvaRings in 2011, the contraceptive remains on the market.

Individual case assessments determine whether a settlement is a viable solution in a products liability claim. The plaintiff's goal in a negligence lawsuit is to obtain compensation. Protracted litigation may weaken the litigant's objective.

Source: Bloomberg News, "Merck to pay $100 million to settle cases over safety of NuvaRing contraceptive" No author given, Feb. 07, 2014

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