A number of plaintiff attorneys involved in Merck & Co.’s large Vioxx settlement were granted a greater portion of fees after objecting to their original awards. After winning 11 of 16 Vioxx lawsuits that went to trial, Merck agreed to settle thousands of claims brought by those affected by the drug’s serious side effects. Attorneys who worked on merging the claims were awarded $315.3 million in fees, to be split among several participating law firms. Allocation of the fees was determined by a court-appointed committee of Vioxx lawyers.
The fee recommendations quickly spawned objections from 18 law firms, arguing that the allocation lacked “any rational basis.” For example, a lawyer who had won a $32 million verdict against Merck back in 2006 argued that, although he decided to opt out of the Vioxx settlement, he deserved a portion of the award. His successful trial against the large drug company “helped keep pressure” on them to settle. A U.S. District Court Judge overseeing the Merck litigation agreed with the reasoning, stating this lawyer’s contribution will have some “rippling effect” on all other cases.
Another objecting lawyer argued that she played a larger role than her co-counsel and was also granted a higher fee. Although they ultimately only received a fraction of the awards they requested, the judge was able to distribute $3 million to the objectors. Those law firms that already received large shares of the fee settlement had their awards reduced to provide compensation to the objecting parties.