We reported last month on the jury verdict against Wyeth and a Pfizer Inc. unit and the awards of compensatory damages. In the second phase, the jury ruled that the defendants must pay $27.1 million in punitive damages for menopause drugs that caused the plaintiff’s breast cancer. Jurors in federal court in Little Rock, Arkansas, found that Wyeth and Pfizer’s Pharmacia & Upjohn showed “reckless disregard” of the health risks posed by their hormone-replacement drugs and should be punished. The jurors had awarded $2.75 million in compensatory damages to the plaintiff in the first phase of the trial. In the punitive phase, Wyeth, based in Madison, New Jersey, was ordered to pay $19.3 million in punitive damages. New York-based Pfizer was told to pay more than $7.7 million.
It’s the third time Wyeth has been ordered to pay punitive damages over its handling of the drugs, Premarin and Prempro. A Nevada jury in October awarded $99
million in such damages to three women after finding that the treatments caused their breast cancers. A judge reduced the award to $58 million in February. In January of 2007, a Philadelphia jury awarded punitive damages – but the Judge placed the amount under seal, pending appeal. The plaintiff in the Arkansas case was among 6 million women who took the pills to treat menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings. The defendants, in her case, will likely appeal. Jurors found that the hormone-replacement therapies were a cause of the plaintiff’s breast cancer and ordered the companies to pay $2.75 million in compensatory damages. Wyeth and Pfizer must each pay half under Arkansas law.
Wyeth has lost five of eight jury trials over Premarin or Prempro since they began going to trial in 2006. Wyeth has settled at least two other cases. The company faces about 5,300 lawsuits over the drugs, which are still on the market. We estimate the total number of claimants at about 7,000. Upjohn has lost both of their cases that
have gone to trial so far over its Provera menopause drug, which came on the market in 1959. They have settled at least two other cases. Pfizer acquired Upjohn in 2003 as part of a $54 billion acquisition of Pharmacia Corp. Sales of Wyeth’s hormone-replacement drugs reached $1.06 billion in 2007. Sales topped $2 billion before a 2002 study linked the medicines to a higher risk of breast cancer.
In 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative study, sponsored by the U.S. National
Institutes of Health, was halted when it found an increasing incidence of invasive breast cancer among women who took a combination of estrogen and progestin, as found in Prempro. Thereafter, Wyeth revised the labels on its menopause drugs. Until 1996, some menopausal women used Premarin, which contained estrogen, together with Provera, which contains progestin. That year, Wyeth combined the two substances in Prempro. Jim Morris, who is a very good lawyer from Austin, Texas, represented the plaintiff in this case and did a tremendous job for his client.
Source: Bloomberg News
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