Attorney fees of more than $412 million were awarded Monday to plaintiffs lawyers from more than 70 firms for their work on the massive fen-phen diet-drug litigation, marking the beginning of the end of the "super-mega-fund" class action.

In a 125-page opinion in In re Diet Drugs, Chief U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III said the case was "nothing short of a herculean effort spanning almost a decade."

Bartle found that the plaintiffs lawyers had logged more than 578,000 hours and said "just to put this time into perspective, it is the equivalent of approximately 24,000 days, or almost 66 years, of around-the-clock work on this litigation."

In 2002 Bartle had awarded "interim fees" of more than $156 million, and this week's award compensates the plaintiffs lawyers for work up to the end of March 2007, bringing the total fee award to $568 million.

About $20 million of the latest fee award was set aside to provide a fund for future fee petitions, but Bartle said that while the case is sure to continue for years, his ruling was "for all intents and purposes a final award of costs and fees."

The original settlement, struck in November 1999, was valued at $3.75 billion, but that sum proved to be only a rough estimate of the ultimate cost to Wyeth. Plaintiffs lawyers now estimate that the ultimate value of the settlement is $7.5 billion.

Wyeth was the maker of both Pondimin (fenfluramine) and Redux (dexfenfluramine) -- two drugs that became wildly popular weight-loss remedies in the early and mid-1990s. Both drugs were pulled from the shelves in September 1997 when it was discovered they could cause heart valve disease.

The term "fen-phen" was used to describe a popular combination of Pondimin with Phentermine, another prescription drug that is still distributed and sold under several different brand names.

The original settlement included liberal opt-out provisions that allowed class members to bring individual lawsuits even after they had participated in the settlement if their medical conditions worsened.