In a blow to the drugmaker, the US Supreme Court rejected a bid by Pfizer to appeal a $58 million damages award made four years ago to three Nevada women, who claimed they suffered breast cancer after taking the Prempro hormone replacement therapy made by its Wyeth unit (see this). The decision comes after the Nevada Supreme Court last November upheld the earlier decision.
As a result, the award stands as the largest to be upheld on appeal in thousands of hormone-replacement lawsuits. More than 6 million women took Prempro and Premarin before the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative study highlighted links to breast cancer, and Pfizer faced more than 10,000 claims, although the drugmaker has since settled nearly one-third of the cases and recently aside $772 million to begin settling the backlog of cases (back story).
The ruling last year by the Nevada Supreme Court confirmed an initial decision in favor of Arlene Rowatt, Jeraldine Scofield and Pamela Forrester, who were originally awarded $134 million, although that was later reduced by the trial judge. The court concluded the jury properly held Pfizer responsible for hiding the cancer risks.
Before the US Supreme Court, however, Pfizer lawyers argued that the trial court judge should have, instead, ordered a new trial rather than reduce the award, and that the jury was swayed by an “improper and inflammatory” closing argument by a lawyer for the women, Bloomberg News notes. Attorneys for the women urged the Supreme Court not to hear the appeal because the damages award was warranted in light of "extensive campaigns to provide false reassurances that its drugs were safe.”
UPDATE: A Pfizer spokesman send us this: “While we are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision, it does nothing to change the fact that hormone therapy medicines are an important treatment option for many women with debilitating symptoms of menopause. The FDA has regularly and thoroughly reviewed the benefits and risks of these medicines, and states that ‘hormone therapy is the most effective FDA approved medicine for relief of hot flashes, night sweats or vaginal dryness.’ ” He adds that four of the last five cases were found in favor of Wyeth.
gavel pic thx to walknboston on flickr