Even after dragging its feet for years, one has to wonder if Merck (NYSE:MRK) settled the Vioxx cases a little too quickly?

Hindsight is always 20/20, but a lot has happened since the company settled with plaintiffs for $4.85 billion last November:

  • Yesterday it won one-and-a-half cases on appeal. A Texas court overturned a $26 million verdict and a New Jersey court set aside $9 million of a $13.9 million award.

  • Of the Vioxx cases that have gone to court, Merck now has 11 wins and three losses, including the $7.75 million award overturned two weeks ago.

  • In a case against Medtronic (NYSE:MDT), the Supreme Court said that plantiffs can't sue medical-device makers if the device is approved by the FDA, implying that the FDA approval standards aren't strict enough. Pharmaceutcial company Wyeth (NYSE:WYE) has a similar case pending with the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court rules in Wyeth's favor, plantiffs also can't sue drugmakers with FDA approval for similar reasons.

Clearly, trying to fight the 60,000-odd lawsuits would have been impossible, but if it had waited until after the three verdicts were overturned and the Wyeth case was decided to settle the case, it might have been in a better bargaining position.

The overturned verdicts will likely encourage some plaintiffs that were going to go to trial to join the settlement. That might seem like a bad thing for Merck, but it'll still likely pay less for those cases than if the plaintiff rolled the dice and went to court based on Merck's current record.

The Vioxx saga seems to be never-ending, but at least things appear to be progressing in the right direction. Now if it and Schering-Plough (NYSE:SGP) could get their issues with Vytorin worked out, the drugmaker would really be doing well.