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Former Vioxx users getting part of a $4.85 billion settlement ending most personal injury suits over the withdrawn painkiller will get a bigger piece of the pie, thanks to an unusual settlement Thursday with their health insurers.


Insurers who paid medical expenses for claimants in the settlement — one of the largest ever in the pharmaceutical industry — have been trying to recoup their expenses from the claimants. The insurers placed liens against any amounts recovered by thousands of former Vioxx users or their survivors, and unsuccessfully tried to make plaintiff lawyers disclose identities of all Vioxx claimants.

Under an agreement approved Thursday by U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon in New Orleans, the amount the more than 100 private insurers participating in the deal can recover from liens will be reduced by at least half. There's also a sliding scale that limits the total an insurer can recover from each claimant, attorney Christopher Seeger, who negotiated the agreement, told The Associated Press in an interview.

Insurers could get at most 15 percent of a $100,000 settlement, or $15,000, and 10 percent of any settlements worth more than $250,000. It's the first such settlement with insurers in a mass litigation case, Seeger said.

"It's a great deal for the (insurance) carriers. It's a very good deal for the claimants," said Seeger, co-lead counsel for plaintiffs in the consolidated federal Vioxx cases.

Drugmaker Merck & Co., based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., pulled Vioxx off the market in September 2004 amid mounting evidence it greatly increased the risk of heart attack, stroke and death. That triggered tens of thousands of lawsuits from Vioxx users who claimed they were harmed.


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