Citing concerns that "passion and prejudice" inflated the verdict, a judge slashed a $134 million jury award to three Nevada women who claimed Wyeth's Prempro drugs caused their breast cancer. Washoe County District Judge Robert Perry granted the drugmaker's motion to find the damages excessive and ordered them reduced to about $58 million total - $23 million in compensatory and $35 million in punitive, theAssociated Press reports.
Still, the reduced judgment remains the largest personal injury award in Nevada history, lawyers for the women said, and it is the largest award to date against the drugmaker, which faces about 5,300 similar lawsuits across the country in state and federal courts. All the cases involve the drugs Premarin, an estrogen replacement, and Prempro, a combination of estrogen and progestin.
Perry said the jury's judgment of $35 million in compensatory and $99 million in punitive suggested the amounts were "the result of passion and prejudice...The court believes that this reduction in damages adequately compensates plaintiffs for the serious consequences which the jury found to have been caused by defendant, while also serving to punish defendant and deter others from similar conduct," he wrote.
Wyeth officials welcomed the ruling but still planned to appeal. "While it's encouraging the district court has acknowledged the excessiveness of the award to some extent, it doesn't change the fact that the verdict was irreparably flawed and fraught with error," Wyeth spokesman Doug Petkus tells the Associated Press.
Lawyers for the women said the ruling did not diminish the company's role in their breast cancer. "Wyeth has been exposed for its role in causing countless breast cancers in thousands of women across the country, and today's verdict reduction to just short of $60 million does nothing to change the gravity of Wyeth's wrongdoing," Peter Wetherall tells the AP.
Wyeth lawyer Dan Webb had argued the jury verdict in October was "an extreme aberration" - 30 times greater than juries have awarded in four similar cases. "It's an injustice," says Webb, who had argued for combined damages of about $5 million for the three women.
Jurors in the Reno case had awarded Jeraldine Scofield, 74, of Fallon; Arlene Rowatt, 67, of Incline Village; and Pamela Forrester, 65, of Yerington, a combined $35 million for medical expenses and physical and emotional pain and suffering. The same panel then awarded the women $99 million in punitive damages.
Perry's new ruling awards Rowatt $7.6 million in compensatory and $10 million in punitive damages. Forrester was awarded $8 million compensatory and $13 million punitive, and Scofield gets $7.3 million compensatory and $12 million punitive.
Zoe Littlepage, a lawyer for the women, had argued the jurors' award was "very reasonable" given they "found this company caused these three women to get breast cancer. But for taking this drug, they would not have gotten breast cancer," she says.
Perry said the women had offered "very limited evidence and argument in support of compensatory damages," limited primarily to past medical bills. But he said the punitive damages were different matter.
"There was substantial evidence from which the jury could conclude that Wyeth knew that its product could cause breast cancer, that it intentionally failed to conduct adequate tests, that it financed and manipulated scientific studies and sponsored articles in professional and scientific journals that deliberately minimized the risk of cancer while over-promoting certain benefits and citing others which it knew to be unsubstantiated," Perry wrote.
Source: The Associated Press