(CN) - Merck will pay $4.85 billion to settle 26,000 Vioxx lawsuits, the company said this morning. The deal will become official if 85 percent of the plaintiffs in 26,000 lawsuits agree to drop their cases. Plaintiffs claim Vioxx, a pain reliever, killed or injured users. Merck pulled Vioxx from the shelves on Sept. 30, 2004 after research showed that it doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
The 26,000 lawsuits represent 47,000 plaintiffs and Merck could have faced 265 class actions.
The agreement covers lawsuits in federal and state courts. The settlement is an abrupt change is Merck's Vioxx defense strategy. Until now, the drug giant had decided to challenge each case individually and had been successful, winning 10 of the 15 cases tried so far.
Settlement payments would vary depending on the severity of the injury and the length of time Vioxx was used. Attorneys representing both sides were to present the settlement this morning to U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon in New Orleans.
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