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Philadelphia—In a ruling that promises to rescue the fen-phen diet drug settlement from a quagmire of satellite litigation, a federal judge has granted final approval to an amended settlement that will streamline claims processing. The new settlement will infuse more than $1.2 billion for resolution within about a year of nearly 42,000 of the less serious claims. In In re Diet Drugs, U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania offered a wistful assessment of why the $3.75 billion settlement approved in 2000 needed to be fixed, and concluded that the new settlement is a fair solution that flicks the switch on the light at the end of the tunnel. “One would have expected that relative calm would have prevailed after the approval of the original settlement agreement. Instead, the landscape has been filled with innumerable disputes, motions and hearings,” Bartle wrote. Far from ending the case, Bartle found that the 2000 settlement led to a slew of court battles over purportedly illegitimate claims, the handling of the audit process by the settlement trust, appeals from the audits and an excessive number of claims “beyond what anyone anticipated at the 2000 fairness hearing.” Without the amendment, Bartle found that the trust was unlikely to have sufficient funds to pay all legitimate claimants. The amendment, Bartle said, “deals fairly and simply with the prospect of illegitimate claims by adopting a straightforward, independent medical review process.” It also promises to end much of the satellite litigation, Bartle found, because it “eliminates claim-specific litigation over benefits and resurrects claims administration as the principal method to adjudicate and disburse benefits.”

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