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Pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Inc. has agreed to pay $27.7 million to about 1,200 plaintiffs as part of a Fosamax settlement to resolve claims that the osteoporosis drug caused bones in their jaws to deteriorate.
The proposal would settle 1,140 lawsuits of the 5,255 outstanding cases in which Merck is embroiled. What's to become of the roughly 4,100 leftover lawsuits?
Fosamax ONJ Settlement
Fosamax, a bisphosphonate drug made by Merck, is a prescription medicine used to prevent or treat osteoporosis in women after menopause, and to treat osteoporosis in men.
The $27.7 million settlement -- a drop in the bucket for the one-time blockbuster drug with $3 billion in sales in 2007 -- will compensate victims for a painful jaw-related condition called Osteonecrosis of the Jaw (ONJ) or "jaw death," reports Reuters.
ONJ is a medical condition in which the jawbone partially crumbles and dies. ONJ may cause severe pain, loose teeth, exposed bone, loss of function, and disfigurement.
More Than 4,100 Outstanding Cases
The settlement would resolve a large portion of the 5,255 product liability cases facing Merck over Fosamax but leaves more than 4,100 lawsuits unresolved, reports Reuters.
In order to join a class action lawsuit, victims must have the same (or similar) injuries or damages. Many of the plaintiffs involved in the outstanding cases were left out of the class action settlement because they had injuries other than ONJ.
Indeed, the osteoporosis drug has been under scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration for causing a host of other bone-related medical conditions such as unusual femur fractures and severe musculoskeletal pain.
Even plaintiffs who suffered from ONJ may have opted out of the class action settlement and pursued their own lawsuits.
In general, people with weak claims (i.e. lesser injuries) prefer class action suits because they increase their odds of obtaining some compensation. By contrast, people with strong claims (i.e. greater injuries) gravitate toward solo lawsuits because suing solo will often yield a larger damages award than what they'd get in a class action.