A Pfizer Inc. unit must pay an undisclosed amount of punitive damages to an Illinois woman who developed breast cancer after taking one of the drugmaker’s menopause treatments, according to a Philadelphia jury.
Jurors deliberated 25 minutes before finding Pfizer’s Wyeth subsidiary was responsible for paying an award to Connie Barton. The specific amount of the award was sealed by the trial judge immediately after it was returned.
In September, the same jury awarded Barton $3.7 million in compensatory damages over the cancer linked to Wyeth’s Prempro hormone-replacement drug. Barton, 64, developed invasive breast cancer five years after she began taking the drug.
“When the jury gets to hear all the evidence” in Prempro cases, punitive damage awards are no surprise, said Esther Berezofsky, one of Barton’s lawyers. She refused to comment on the size of the award.
The judge ordered yesterday’s verdict sealed until another Prempro trial in the same courthouse is completed. Lawyers in that case say it could take another three weeks to wrap up.
More than 6 million women have taken hormone-replacement medicines to treat menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings. Until 1995, many patients combined Premarin, Wyeth’s estrogen-based drug, with progestin-laden Provera, made by Upjohn, another Pfizer unit.
Wyeth, based in Madison, New Jersey, later combined the two hormones in Prempro. The drugs are still on the market. New York-based Pfizer completed its $68 billion purchase of Wyeth Oct. 15.
Wyeth lawyers asked Judge Sandra Moss, who oversees all product-liability cases in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, to seal the Barton verdict because the trial of another Prempro lawsuit had begun in another courtroom.
Moss said she had to “balance the public’s right to know” with concerns about litigants getting a fair trial in deciding to seal the verdict.
She said as soon as the next Prempro trial is completed, she’ll unseal the Barton verdict and another punitive award handed down in a 2007 Prempro case.
In Barton’s case, Judge Norman Ackerman instructed jurors not to reveal their verdict until being advised by the court that the award had been unsealed. Barton, her lawyers and Wyeth’s lawyers were able to review the award.
The case is Barton v. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc., 040406301, Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.
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