The Pennsylvania Supreme Court last month dismissed a set of appeals by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc. in the company’s attempt to avoid paying an $8.6 million punitive damages verdict. The verdict was in a suit that claimed its Prempro menopause drug had caused a woman’s breast cancer. Wyeth had asked the Pennsylvania high court last September to overturn the punitive damages award, arguing that it was invalidated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of the drug. The pharmaceutical company contended that the appeals court had erred in reinstating the award a Philadelphia jury had granted in 2007 to Mary Daniel, an Arkansas woman who claimed the drug had caused her breast cancer.
The state’s high court did not expound on its rationale for dismissing the appeals. “The appeals are dismissed as having been improvidently granted,” the order said. The punitive damages were in addition to the $1.7 million in compensatory damages the jury awarded Ms. Daniel and her husband. A trial court judge granted Wyeth’s motion for a judgment notwithstanding verdict on punitive damages, claiming these damages were not appropriate under the circumstances. But after Ms. Daniel appealed, the Superior Court overturned the judge’s ruling, determining sufficient evidence existed for the jury to conclude that Wyeth had failed to thoroughly test the drug’s breast cancer risks, thus engaging in “outrageous conduct” that merited punitive damages.
Six different appellate courts across the U.S. have upheld punitive damages against Wyeth in cases involving Prempro. In the Daniel case, the jury had been correct in concluding that Wyeth had held the capability to perform more adequate studies of the risks posed by the drug but had failed to do so. Ms. Daniel is represented in her case by Robert K. Jenner of Janet Jenner & Suggs, a firm located in Baltimore, Md.
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