Pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. has agreed to pay $100 million in a product liability lawsuit regarding its contraceptive NuvaRing. Thousands of lawsuits went to trial last April in relation to the contraceptive’s risk of causing blood clots that resulted in strokes and death.
The settlement covers over 3,800 lawsuits that were filed in state and federal courts in New Jersey and Missouri. The ordered amount of $100 million should, on average, break down to about $58,000 per case. The settlement’s payment is contingent upon whether 95 percent of plaintiffs chose to accept the deal. If less than 95 percent of plaintiffs refuse the deal, Merck can refuse to pay entirely.
Compared to other pharmaceutical companies who have faced similar lawsuits, Merck & Co. is getting off lightly.
University of Richmond product liability law professor Carl Tobias said “Merck may be getting out much more cheaply than its competitors.” In a similar suit, German drug company Bayer AG paid a $1.6 billion settlement last year because its contraceptives, Yaz and Yazmin, caused blood clots that resulted in strokes and heart attacks.
Tobias further mentioned that such conditions are more difficult to prove in the NuvaRing cases because of the different mode of administration. However, increased burden of proof or not, Merck still did little to ensure the product’s safety before releasing NuvaRing onto the market. Only once in the NuvaRing’s ten years on the market did it undergo any study of potential health risks. That study was funded by Merck.
The Merck study asserted that the NuvaRing posed no greater health risk than that of oral contraceptives. However, shortly after the Merck-sponsored study was released, the New England Journal of Medicine released a study that indicated a 90 percent increased risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE), or blood clots, with the NuvaRing versus oral contraceptives. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also indicated increased risk of VTE associated with the Nuvaring.
The vastly differing results insisted that Merck attempted to downplay the health risks associated with the NuvaRing. However, many companies are able to get drugs and products fast-tracked through the FDA with minimal or virtually no background research of the products’ or drugs’ risk.
“Keeping the public in the dark by concealing accurate and important safety information from doctors and patients has, sadly, become a routine business practice of the pharmaceutical industry,” said Chris Paulos, attorney with Levin, Papantonio P.A. “This particular case is just a small portion of Big Pharma’s rampant malfeasance.”