Court hearings were held Friday in both St. Louis, Missouri and New Jersey, which could possibly lead to a settlement of more than 3,800 lawsuits involving NuvaRing, the women’s birth control device linked to fatal blood clots.
Even though it has been confirmed that a settlement proposal is in the works for a reported $100 million, this may not be acceptable to the plaintiffs, whose lawsuits have been consolidated in federal and state courts in Missouri and N.J. The $100 million payout, averaging more than $58,000 per case, will be contingent upon at least 95 percent of the eligible claimants opting into the program.
Thousands of women have accused Merck of misleading consumers about the risks associated with NuvaRing, namely its higher risk of blood clots than other hormonal contraceptives. The drug maker denied fault under the agreement and continued to stand by the safety of its product.
Judge Brian Martinotti in Hackensack, N.J. said, “The settlement is a fair resolution of this litigation.” He added, “This is a lump sum settlement of $100 million that covers the entire litigation nationwide.”
However, last year, one of Merck’s competitors, Germany-based AG Bayer, agreed to pay more than $1.6 billion to settle cases alleging that Yaz and Yasmin birth control pills caused blood clots that led to heart attacks and strokes. Those cases were consolidated in federal court in Southern Illinois. Why should Merck get away with a fraction of this settlement?
NuvaRing is a flexible, plastic ring that is inserted monthly in the upper vagina and releases a combination of third-generation birth control hormones, progestin and estrogen, to prevent pregnancy. The product was linked in a 2011 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report to a higher risk for blood clots.
NuvaRing has been marketed and sold in the U.S. since 2001 by a N.J. company, Organon USA Inc. Schering-Plough acquired Organon in 2007 and Merck acquired Schering-Plough in 2009, inheriting the mountain of lawsuits surrounding NuvaRing.
An investigation in December found that during the approval process, the FDA had concerns about the safety of NuvaRing and recommended that Organon include a statement in its packaging, warning women and health care providers that the device may carry an elevated risk of blood clots. Internal company emails showed the drug maker was adamantly opposed to including such a statement and fought successfully to keep it out of their warning label.
The lawsuits allege that the drug makers failed to properly design and test NuvaRing, the first vaginal delivery system for hormonal birth control, and did not adequately disclose or warn consumers or health care providers of the potential dangers when using this device.
Plaintiffs allege that NuvaRing causes life-threatening injuries such as heart attacks, strokes, deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in the vein), and pulmonary embolism (when a blood clot breaks free and travels to the lung), as well as death and that manufacturers knowingly downplayed the health risks.
Approximately 1,647 NuvaRing cases have been consolidated in the U.S. District in St. Louis before Judge Rodney Sippel, including cases filed by a dozen or so Missouri residents. Previously, about 250 cases have been consolidated in a N.J. state court. Additional cases have been filed in other states.
Sarah M. Jenn, a Missouri resident, sued the makers of Nuva Ring in 2007 on behalf of her mother, Dana Jenn, who was 40 at the time of her death. According to her lawsuit, Dana Jenn began using NuvaRing in June 2005. On the evening of July 15, 2005, she experienced severe shortness of breath while on a treadmill and collapsed. Attempts to revive her were unsuccessful. Dana Jenn died just a few hours later.
Why is it that Merck was ordered to pay significantly less money than Bayer AG who faced similar allegations last year? It was confirmed by Bayer that they paid nearly $1.6 billion to settle thousands of lawsuits after women allege that the birth control pills caused them to develop near-fatal blood clots.
According to Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond to Bloomberg, “Merck may be getting out much more cheaply than its competitors because proving the liability case against the NuvaRing device appears to be more difficult.”
Do you think $58,000 is a fair settlement for a family who lost a loved one due to the negligence of a pharmaceutical company?
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