A federal judge in New Orleans has approved a settlement that will direct a large share of a prescription drug liability settlement to participating patients, rather than to the health insurers’ that paid for the patients’ care.

U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon has approved the settlement, which involves thousands of patients in the Vioxx Settlement Program and more than 100 private health insurers.

The patients took Vioxx, a pain medication made by Merck & Company Inc., Whitehouse Station, N.J. Lawyers for the class say the patients suffered heart attacks, strokes and sudden heart-related deaths as a result of taking the drug.

Christopher Seeger, a lawyer at Seeger Weiss L.L.P., New York, negotiated an agreement with the health insurers that covered the cost of medical care for the patients.

The insurers have agreed to accept 15% of smaller awards and a maximum of 10% of any amounts awarded over $250,000. The insurers had argued that subrogation clauses in the patients’ policies gave them the right to seek reimbursement for the cost of paying for care allegedly resulting from other parties’ negligence.