(Reuters) - Merck & Co said on Friday it will pay $100 million to resolve all U.S. product liability lawsuits alleging it downplayed serious health risks involving its NuvaRing intrauterine contraceptive device.
The product, which contains the hormones estrogen and progestin commonly found in birth control bills, is associated with an increased risk of developing blood clots that can cause heart attacks, strokes or sudden deaths. Available to women in the United States since 2001, NuvaRing is one of several contraceptive products linked to this higher risk.
Merck, the second-biggest U.S. drugmaker, denied any fault under the agreement, which must be accepted by 95 percent of about 3,800 eligible patients involved in lawsuits pending in federal and state courts.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Roger Denton of Schlichter, Bogard and Denton, said the settlement, reached after nearly a year of negotiations, is "an outstanding result and in the best interests of all the women who have suffered an injury associated with the use of Nuvaring."
Under the settlement, Merck would pay a fraction of what at least one company has paid in a similar settlement.
German drugmaker Bayer AG said last year it had paid nearly $1.6 billion to settle thousands of lawsuits involving accusations that its Yaz and Yazmin birth control pills caused blood clots that led to strokes and heart attacks.
Merck shares were up 1 percent at $54.32 on the New York Stock Exchange, in line with a 1.2-percent advance in the ARCA Pharmaceutical Index of large U.S. and European drugmakers.
(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; Additional reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Bernadette Baum)