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Prempro Lawsuits Result in Big Punitive Damages for Pfizer

Nov 24, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Pfizer Inc. has been ordered to pay punitive damages totaling $103 million in two lawsuits involving Prempro.  Prempro is a hormone replacement therapy medication marked by Pfizer's Wyeth unit.

A Philadelphia jury yesterday awarded $28 million in punitive damages to a 66-year-old woman who claimed her breast cancer was the result of taking Prempro and Provera, another hormone medication made by Pfizer's Upjohn unit.  As we reported yesterday, the plaintiff had a double mastectomy in 2002 after taking the hormone-replacement drugs for 11 years. The verdict, which was handed down on Friday, also included $6.3 million in compensatory damages.  It was the largest compensatory damage award  in cases tried in Philadelphia so far.

Jurors concluded that Wyeth and Upjohn officials failed to adequately warn the plaintiff's doctors about the drugs’ cancer risks and that failure played a role in the physicians’ decision to prescribe Prempro and Provera. They also found that Wyeth’s and Upjohn’s conduct in marketing and selling the drugs was “wanton and reckless,” leaving the companies subject to a punitive damage award.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the second punitive damage award involved a case that was decided earlier.  The verdict, which was unsealed yesterday, awarded that plaintiff $75 million in punitive damages.  The plaintiff had also been awarded $3.5 million in compensatory damages.  However, according to the Inquirer, the punitive award will likely be reduced because it exceeds the compensatory damages by such a large margin.

Hormone therapy drugs like Premarin, Prempro, Premphase and Provera are used to treat the hot flashes and other symptoms that accompany menopause  In 2002, a major study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) determined that Prempro, Premarin 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.

The 2002 findings resulted in a deluge of lawsuits against the makers of hormone therapy drugs.  According to the Inquirer, Pfizer faces about 10,000 similar suits around the country.

A legal expert told the Inquirer that the punitive damage awards in the Philadelphia Prempro lawsuits could indicate that "jurors are sending a message that they are angry about the corporate conduct in the cases."

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