The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the appeal by Wyeth, a Pfizer unit, of a $58 million award to three Nevada women who contracted breast cancer after taking the company’s Premarin and Prempro menopause drugs. This leaves the award as the largest to be upheld on appeal in the thousands of hormone-replacement drug suits that have been filed. More than 6 million women took Prempro and other menopause drugs before a 2002 study revealed their links to cancer.
The Nevada Supreme Court ruled that jurors properly held Wyeth responsible for hiding the breast- cancer risks of Premarin and Prempro. The original award in 2007 totaled $134.1 million to Arlene Rowatt, Jeraldine Scofield and Pamela Forrester. The trial judge later reduced the verdict to $57.6 million. Wyeth wanted the High Court to order a new trial. The company contended that the jury was swayed by an “improper and inflammatory” closing argument by a lawyer representing the three women.
Lawyers representing the women urged the Supreme Court not to get involved, saying the award was warranted in light of the company’s “extensive campaigns to provide false reassurances that its drugs were safe.” Annual sales of Wyeth’s hormone-replacement drugs exceeded $2 billion before a 2002 study, sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said that women using the medicines had a 24% higher risk of breast cancer. Until 1995, many patients combined Premarin, Wyeth’s estrogen-based drug, with progestin-laden Provera, made by Pfizer’s Pharmacia & Upjohn unit. Wyeth then combined the two hormones in Prempro. Folks should be shocked to hear that the drugs are still on the market.
Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker, acquired Wyeth in 2009. The company, which has already settled a third of the pending cases over its Prempro menopause drug, set aside $772 million to settle claims over the medicine. The three women were all in their 60s at the time of the verdict. Sadly, Ms. Forrester and Ms. Rowatt have since died of causes unrelated to the litigation. Every woman in the United States owes a debt of gratitude to these three brave souls who fought the good fight and to their lawyers. Zoe Littlepage, from Little Rock, Ark., Rainey Booth from Tallahassee, Fla., and Peter Wetherall, from Reno, Nev., the lawyers who represented the women, all did a truly outstanding job. But the real heroes are the three women who brought this lawsuit and were not afraid to take on the powerful drug industry!
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