The Pennsylvania Supreme Court last month rejected an appeal by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc., a unit of Pfizer Inc. The appeal was over $11.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages awarded to a woman who developed breast cancer after taking the menopause drug Prempro.
The justices rejected a petition by Wyeth asking the appeals court to reconsider a January 2010 decision by the state’s Superior Court agreeing that the drugmaker systematically ignored warning signs that the hormone replacement drugs Prempro and Provera were linked to breast cancer. The justices did not comment on the case in issuing their order rejecting the appeal.
The refusal by the justices to hear the case leaves intact a decision by a three-judge Superior Court panel finding that plaintiff Connie Barton had presented ample evidence that the subsidiaries had ignored studies linking the drug to breast cancer, squashed dissenting studies, and even ghostwritten medical articles denying the cancer links. The Superior Court, in an opinion written by Judge Kate Ford Elliott, stated:
The record indicates that Wyeth’s conduct in this matter was reprehensible and fully merited the imposition of punitive damages. Wyeth was on notice years prior to Barton’s being prescribed [the] drugs that they may cause breast cancer, yet purposefully failed to study the matter further and even discouraged others from doing so.
The appeals decision found that a judge in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas had improperly reduced a $75 million punitive damage award Ms. Barton had received to $5.6 million, or one-and-a-half times the $3.7 million in compensatory damages she was awarded by a jury. Instead, the Superior Court found that a punitive damage award double the compensatory damages, or $7.4 million, would be sufficient to deter pharmaceutical companies from engaging in similar conduct. Wyeth had argued that its compliance with FDA standards insulated the company from punitive damages. This was an argument that the drugmaker also made in the Supreme Court on appeal.
Ms. Barton is represented by Samuel Abloeser, Esther Berezofsky, Kevin Haverty and Michael Quirk with the Philadelphia firm Williams Cuker Berezofsky. They did a very good job in this case.
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