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High Court Denies Wyeth's Appeal in Premarin, Prempro Lawsuit

Jun 22, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Pfizer Inc.’s Wyeth unit won’t be able to have a full new trial in a case involving its hormone replacement therapy drugs, Prempro and Premarin. Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a 2009 appeals court decision that denied Wyeth a second chance to argue it wasn’t liable at all for the plaintiff’s injuries.

However, according to The Wall Street Journal, Wyeth is still entitled to a partial new trial to determine how much money it owed in punitive damages, as per the 2009 ruling.

Hormone therapy drugs like Prempro, Premarin, and Provera are used to treat the hot flashes and other symptoms that accompany menopause. In 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) a major study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) determined that Prempro and similar drugs significantly increased the risk of stroke, blood clots, heart attacks and breast cancer.

The results were so alarming that the NIH canceled the study, citing risk to the study’s participants. The authors of the study suggested that many of the women who used the medications should quit and talk to their doctors about alternatives. After the WHI was released, thousands of breast cancer victims sued Wyeth, claiming the hormone drugs had caused the disease. While the drugs remain on the market, their labels include a Black Box warning about the risk of breast cancer.

According to The Wall Street Journal, back in 2008, a federal jury in Arkansas had awarded Donna Scoggins $2.75 million in compensatory damages from Wyeth and another Pfizer unit, Pharmacia & Upjohn Co. She was also awarded another $19 million from Wyeth and almost $8 million from Upjohn for punitive damages. Scoggins who had taken Wyeth’s Premarin and Prempro, as well as Upjohn’s Provera separately over an 11 year period, claimed the drugs caused her to develop breast cancer.

On appeal, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis said the trial judge improperly allowed testimony from one of the plaintiff’s experts – a former Food & Drug Administration official – during the punitive damages phase of the original trial. However, the court ruled Wyeth could be still held liable for punitive damages, but said Upjohn was not. It then ordered the separate proceeding for Wyeth on punitive damages.

In its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Wyeth argued the 8th Circuit violated constitutional protections by allowing a new jury to consider only the punitive damages.

According to the Journal, the Supreme Court denied Wyeth’s petition without comment. Chief Justice John Roberts backed out of consideration of the appeal because he owns Pfizer stock.

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