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Vioxx Settlement Judge Caps Legal Fees at 32 PercentThe judge overseeing much of the massive litigation over withdrawn painkiller Vioxx has capped fees for plaintiffs attorneys at a relatively low 32 percent of the $4.85 billion settlement. Altogether, 871 law firms are involved in the litigation. A much smaller group of firms that pulled together thousands of documents under a pretrial discovery process that the judge coordinated will receive additional fees above the 32 percent. But the extra amounts will come from the other attorneys, not from claimants.
2008-08-28 12:00:00 AM
The federal judge overseeing much of the massive litigation over withdrawn painkiller Vioxx on Wednesday capped fees for plaintiffs attorneys at a relatively low 32 percent of the $4.85 billion settlement, saying he had to ensure fees were reasonable.
U.S. District Judge Elden Fallon wrote in an order that while the limit is below the usual 33.3 percent to 40 percent that lawyers collect when they take cases on a contingency, it won't result in "a paltry award" for the lawyers.
"Limiting attorneys' fees to 32 percent of the net recovery means that the attorneys in this case will receive more than $1.55 billion," Fallon wrote in a 21-page order.
The judge gave several reasons for the limit, noting the global settlement reached last November streamlined the work of the participating attorneys. He wrote that he had an increased responsibility to keep fees reasonable because most of the claimants are elderly and frail after having "suffered life-threatening injuries" -- or they are survivors of people who died of a heart attack or stroke -- so they may not have been able to negotiate the most favorable contracts with attorneys.
Fallon, whose court is in New Orleans, also ruled the hundreds of attorneys representing about 50,000 Vioxx claimants participating in the settlement can recover reasonable costs.
Altogether, 871 law firms are involved in the litigation, which began about the time Merck & Co., the maker of Vioxx, pulled the painkiller from the market in September 2004 after its own research showed it doubled risk of heart attack and stroke.
A much smaller group of law firms that pulled together thousands of documents under a pretrial discovery process that Fallon coordinated will receive additional fees above the 32 percent. But the judge stressed that those extra amounts, still to be determined, will come from the other attorneys -- not from the claimants.
The first partial checks from the settlement fund are to be sent out starting Thursday by the firm administering the claims. Those amounts, roughly 40 percent of expected final settlements for claimants, will go into escrow accounts temporarily. Claimants will get their portion after deduction of lawyer's fees and any claims by insurers seeking reimbursement for medical care they covered for Vioxx users.
The first payments are only for heart attack cases; payments for stroke cases are set to begin in February.
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