A federal appeals court reinstated more than 100 lawsuits against drug companies filed by women or their surviving relatives who claimed that hormone replacement therapy caused breast cancer.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis overturned a 2008 district court ruling that had blocked almost all of the suits from being sent back to state court in Minnesota and dismissed most of the lawsuits that were being heard in Little Rock.
The appeals court ruled that since the cases belonged in a state court, the district court judge did not have jurisdiction to dismiss them. It also reversed the dismissal of dozens of cases that the lower court ruled should not have been part of the litigation because they duplicated claims pending in California.
The plaintiffs argued that the judge didn’t give them a “reasonable opportunity” to be heard and abused his authority by not merely staying the cases pending the outcome in California.
The hormones were prescribed to treat symptoms of menopause, and women who sued ranged in age from their 30s to their 80s. Several thousand similar lawsuits have been filed around the country.
A dozen companies that sold the drugs are named in the Arkansas suits, including Pfizer Inc. and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc., Barr Laboratories Inc. and Mead Johnson & Co., among others. Pfizer has since acquired Wyeth.
Many of the suits focus on the drug Prempro, a combination estrogen-progestin pill. Companies argue that women are now fully informed as to the risks and benefits of the therapy.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Thomas V. Girardi of Los Angeles said the ruling could lead to settlements with the drug companies, but that going to trial remained an option.
“The important thing is that (the appeals court’s ruling) gives many women with breast cancer who were taking this medication an opportunity to go before a jury and tell their story,” he said.
The cases of three plaintiffs — Sandra Kirkland, Rick Jasperson and Dorothy Allen — had been consolidated with other plaintiffs when they sued in state court in Minnesota in 2008.
Girardi said it was appropriate to have separate trials, considering how compensation awards could vary based on the age of the plaintiffs.
In November, the 8th Circuit granted a new trial request by Wyeth and Upjohn Co., which challenged an Arkansas jury verdict in a suit filed by Donna Scroggin of Little Rock. The jury had awarded her $27 million in punitive damages and $2.75 million in compensatory damages in February 2008. Jurors concluded that Wyeth inadequately warned Scroggin that its drugs Premarin and Prempro carried an increased risk of breast cancer. The suit also involved Upjohn’s Provera, an estrogen-only drug.
Last October, a Philadelphia jury found a link between hormone treatment and Connie Barton’s breast cancer. The jury ordered Wyeth to pay the Peoria, Ill., woman $75 million in punitive damages and $3.75 million in compensatory damages. Another verdict in the same courthouse awarded $28 million in combined damages to Donna Kendall of Decatur, Ill.
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