Jurors said in 2007 that a Pfizer Inc. unit should pay more than $8 million in punitive damages to a woman who blamed the company’s menopause drugs for her breast cancer.
A Philadelphia jury in January 2007 awarded Mary Daniel compensatory damages of $1.5 million in her lawsuit against Pfizer’s Wyeth subsidiary over its Prempro menopause treatment. The panel recommended she get more than $8 million in punitive damages if an appeals court found she was entitled to such an award because of bad conduct by the company.
The $8 million figure was sealed pending an appeal. A judge in Philadelphia refused last month to make it public. A Pennsylvania appellate court heard arguments in Wyeth’s challenge to the verdict on Dec. 1. Wyeth wants the jury’s $1.5 million compensatory award thrown out. Daniel’s lawyers are seeking to have punitive damages added to it.
With this case, juries have said women deserved more than $173 million in punitive damages in lawsuits linking hormone- replacement drugs and breast cancer since the cases began going to trial in 2006. More than 6 million women have taken the medicines to treat menopause symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings.
Until 1995, many patients combined Premarin, an estrogen- based drug made by Wyeth, with progestin-laden Provera, made by Upjohn, another subsidiary of Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker.
Wyeth scientists later combined the two hormones in the company’s Prempro pill. The drugs are still on the market. New York-based Pfizer completed its $68 billion purchase of Wyeth in October.
Wyeth has lost six of nine jury verdicts, including the last four in a row, over the drugs.
Daniel took Prempro for about 16 months starting in December 1999 before developing breast cancer in July 2001, her lawyers said during the three-week trial. Wyeth’s attorneys argued her cancer was caused by other things, including her family’s medical history. Daniel’s aunt had breast cancer and her mother had lung cancer, Wyeth’s lawyers said.
The judge in Daniel’s Philadelphia Common Pleas Court case ruled after the jury returned the compensatory-damage award that her lawyers hadn’t presented sufficient evidence to justify a punitive-damage award to the Hot Springs, Arkansas resident.
Still, Judge Myrna Field Baum allowed jurors to hear arguments on Wyeth’s alleged mishandling of the menopause drugs and arrive at a sealed figure for a bad-conduct award in case the appellate courts reversed her finding. Baum died three months later. Her successor granted Wyeth’s request for a new trial on the jury’s finding that Wyeth was liable for $1.5 million in compensatory damages. That, too, is on appeal.
The compensatory award was thrown out after an expert witness who testified on Daniel’s behalf in the trial recanted his testimony.
Daniel’s lawyers sought to have the punitive number made public in November after another Philadelphia judge unsealed a $75 million bad-conduct award against Wyeth in a separate Prempro case.
Judge Sandra Moss, who is overseeing all Philadelphia Common Pleas Court cases involving Prempro, declined to make public the punitive-damages figure in the Daniel case, saying she didn’t have jurisdiction over the number since it was on appeal.
Pfizer’s lawyers told a Pennsylvania Superior Court panel earlier this month that Daniel’s lawyers presented insufficient evidence that Prempro caused her breast cancer, according to a report in the Philadelphia Legal Intelligencer newspaper.
Daniel’s lawyers argued their evidence was sufficient to justify the $1.5 million awarded to Daniel and the sealed punitive figure, said Mark Cuker, a Philadelphia attorney representing the plaintiff.
Cuker told the appellate judges that plaintiffs produced evidence showing Wyeth officials knew as early as 1975 that their menopause drugs could pose a higher cancer risk to users and never did a study to assess that risk, according to the Legal Intelligencer.
“If reasonable people couldn’t conclude from our evidence that punitive damages were justified, I don’t know what does” justify such an award, Cuker said in an interview.
The case is Daniel v. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc., 040602368, Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.
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