The drugmaker was ordered to pay a total of $103 million in punitive damages to two women who were found to have breast cancer after they used the Prempro or Premarin hormone replacement therapies. In one case, a jury awarded $28 million and a judge unsealed another case from last month with a $75 million judgment. Both cases played out in a Pennsylvania state court in Philadelphia.
Some 1,500 lawsuits have been filed in Philadelphia and another 10,000 are lodged in other courts around the country. Lawyers for many plaintiffs say they have won financial settlements for undisclosed amounts in at least 10 other cases before the suits went to trial, according to The New York Times. Esther Berezofsky, a lawyer for one of the women who won the awards in Philadelphia tells the paper that “this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
In cases that had reached jury judgments, women with breast cancer had won damages in 10 of the 12 hormone drug cases, although many are on appeal, she tells the paper, adding that a federal appeals court decision in St. Louis this month had significantly improved the chances of receiving punitive damages and winning appeals.
In that decision, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit overturned an award of $27 million for an Arkansas woman, citing improper testimony by an expert witness, but ordered a new trial on punitive damages. The judges’ ruling said “there was sufficient evidence upon which a jury could conclude that Wyeth acted with reckless disregard to the risk of injury.”
One Wall Street tells the paper the latest judgments would have little effect on Pfizer unless the punitive damages were upheld on appeal. “At this point, it doesn’t concern me too much,” says Tim Anderson of Sanford C. Bernstein.
For its part, Pfizer denies improper conduct and plans further appeals.