It’s a sign of the times that a company can express relief after agreeing to settle a massive set of lawsuits for $4.85 billion. But Merck & Co.’s decision to end the Vioxx wars last week appears to be a victory for a company facing $20 billion in liability, and a validation of its courthouse strategy to fight each case.

The settlement, negotiated over about a year, was announced Friday in New Orleans just before a status conference was scheduled in front of U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon who had been supervising the federal multi-district litigation docket.