Vioxx plaintiffs get extra time for paperwork

Feb. 29 is the date paperwork is due
NEW ORLEANS 02/22/08 Feb. 29 is the deadline for "enrolling" people to get the early payments from Merck & Co., which sold the drug until September 2004. However, some lawyers are having trouble getting all the medical and other supporting paperwork, so the deadline for that has been moved to March 30, lawyers told U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon on Thursday.

People whose lawyers send in their names and Social Security numbers by Feb. 29 and their medical and other supporting paperwork by March 30 could get partial payments by late summer, Kent Jarrell, a Merck spokesman, said afterward.

Lawyers have registered more than 58,000 people as interested in the settlement; they have formally enrolled more than 13,200, Jarrell said.

A rush is likely in the final 24 to 48 hours, but numbers are changing by the minute, said Warren Brown of Brown Greer LLC, the company administering the settlement.

"There were more than 29,000 yesterday. This morning, it was 30,041," he said.

About 26,000 to 27,000 of those people had heart attacks or strokes which they blame on the painkiller, he said.

Brown said lawyers listed more than 20,000 claims in the 48 hours before the Jan. 15 registration deadline.

Lawyers have at least until July 10, and possibly as late as Oct. 30, to file claims for people who aren't asking for early partial payments.

Lawyers for Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck and the plaintiffs say the agreement could end most of the 61,100 cases. They include about 47,000 people whose lawsuits were filed before the settlement was announced Nov. 9, and another 14,100 who had agreements with Merck to let them file after the statute of limitations ran out - generally two or three years after an alleged injury.

Merck has said at least 85 percent of people in different groups of claimants must sign on for the agreement to go through.

A lawyer for about 230 residents of Florida asked Fallon to add them to the list of those eligible for the settlement.

Norwood Wilner said he and William Ogle of Daytona Beach had agreements with the committee of lawyers set up to represent plaintiffs in the federal litigation before Fallon, and had listed the 230 clients and their allegations.

But they hadn't filed suits for those people because Florida's 4-year statute of limitations had not run out, and they had no way to know the settlement's limits because Fallon had ordered secret negotiations, Wilner said.

"I think what happened was an unintended consequence of the court orders," he said.

The settlement "is now the model for mass tort resolution," Wilner said. "Somehow we got left at the altar when we didn't want to be."

Attorneys for Merck and the Plaintiffs Steering Committee said they had nothing to add to written arguments filed earlier this month.

Both sides said the settlement is a private contract. Wilner's request would create "a different agreement," so Fallon has no authority to go along with it, Merck contended.

The PSC's brief said "Merck is and was justified to limit its offer" to a specific group.

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