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Merck agrees to $4.85B settlement over Vioxx Merck & Co. will pay $4.85 billion to settle thousands of lawsuits over the painkiller Vioxx in one of the largest civil cases ever, the company said last week. Merck faced about 26,600 lawsuits representing 47,000 plaintiffs, plus about 265 potential class action cases, filed by people or family members who claimed the drug proved fatal or injured its users. The agreement is to cover cases filed in federal and state courts. The deal becomes binding only if 85% of all plaintiffs agree to drop their cases. It was finalized in the early morning hours of Nov. 9 after attorneys for Merck and the plaintiffs met with three of the four judges overseeing nearly all Vioxx claims. California governor and AG sue over emissions In an unusual show of unity, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown last week sued to force federal regulators to act on California’s request to curb vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions. Schwarzenegger and Brown accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of dragging its feet on California’s nearly two-year-old request for a waiver that would allow the state to mandate a 30% reduction in global warming emissions from vehicles by 2016. EPA officials contend that they had to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April that the federal government does have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Louisiana sues insurers on hurricane payments Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti has sued the state’s largest property insurers last week, accusing them of conspiring to limit payments to policyholders after hurricanes Katrina and Rita and engaging in a price-fixing scheme. The suit, filed in a state court in New Orleans, alleges that several insurers, including State Farm and Allstate, manipulated damage estimates and low-balled claims payments after the 2005 storms. State Farm spokesman Phil Supple said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on Foti’s allegations, but he defended the company’s handling of Katrina claims. Allstate spokesman Michael Siemienas also said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and wouldn’t immediately comment. Sullivan & Cromwell joins the bonus parade Sullivan & Cromwell last week became the latest firm to match the bonuses announced by Cravath, Swaine & Moore, which said it would pay both year-end and one-time “special” bonuses to associates. The bonuses will total $45,000 for first-years and go up to $110,000 for senior associates. Several other New York firms have also matched the Cravath bonus, including Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Debevoise & Plimpton. Clifford Chance lays off six finance associates In one of the first clear signs that slumping credit markets are causing economic pain at law firms, Clifford Chance last week laid off a group of associates in the structured finance area. John Christian, the partner in charge of Clifford Chance’s U.S. personnel committee, said the firm had made a difficult “business decision” to lay off the six associates in a practice group that worked exclusively for credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s. The lawyers had reviewed the documentation S&P used to rate mortgage-backed securities.

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