A state court jury in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, recently awarded $1.5 million in compensatory damages to an Arkansas woman and her husband. The plaintiff began taking Prempro in late 1999 and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. In her lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that Prempro, a menopausal drug developed and marketed by Wyeth, caused her breast cancer. She underwent two surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy for the cancer. The jury found that Wyeth was negligent in failing to provide adequate warnings about the breast cancer risk associated with Prempro. In the second phase of the trial, the jury considered punitive damages. Jurors had concluded in their verdict that Wyeth’s conduct was “malicious, wanton, willful, or oppressive, or showed reckless indifference.” Under Pennsylvania law, when that standard is met, another round of deliberations proceeds to determine punitive damages. The jury was allowed to continue deliberating to determine a dollar amount, though the final figure would remain sealed by the court. The amount that the jurors agreed on could be disclosed, however, if an appellate court reverses the trial court’s decision. In the meanwhile, a gag order is in effect that prohibits lawyers from commenting on the verdict, which apparently is under seal.
As we prepare to take this issue to press, a Philadelphia jury has just returned with an award of $3 million to an Ohio woman, Jennie Nelson, and her husband in a similar case against Wyeth. Ms. Nelson began using Prempro in 1995 and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 after taking more than 2000 pills. Ms. Nelson alleges in her lawsuit that Wyeth gave a defective warning about links between breast cancer and Prempro and had the warning been clearer she would never have taken the drug. A jury in October of 2006 awarded Ms. Nelson and her husband $1.5 million after finding that Prempro was a cause of her breast cancer. A judge threw out that award, citing juror misconduct.
In last month’s issue, we reported on a lawsuit filed by an Arkansas woman, Helene Rush, who was suing Wyeth pharmaceuticals. That case, held in Little Rock, Arkansas, concluded recently when the jury returned a verdict in favor of Wyeth. Ms. Rush initiated the lawsuit against the company in 2005 after taking Prempro for nine years and developing breast cancer in 1999.
More than 5000 similar suits have been filed across the country. The lawsuits against Wyeth accuse the company of minimizing the risks associated with the drug and systematically ignoring studies that showed a breast cancer link, instead trying to “dismiss and distract” doctors and patients. The drug Prempro is a combination of estrogen and progestin used to ease menopausal symptoms in women. Many women stopped taking the drug after a federal Women’s Health Initiative study in July 2002 in which researchers said more breast cancer and heart problems occurred among women taking estrogen-progestin pills. Our firm represents numerous clients in hormone replacement therapy related litigation. We look forward to our first trial beginning in November in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Sources: Bloomberg News, Reuters, Insurance Journal and Associated Press
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