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Prempro, Premarin Judgment against Wyeth Reduced by Nevada Judge

Feb 20, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP A judgment granted to Prempro and Premarin patients in Nevada was reduced substantially by a District Judge in that state. The three plaintiffs had claimed that Prempro and Premarin had caused them to develop breast cancer.  A Nevada jury agreed, and had originally ordered Wyeth, the maker of Prempro and Premarin, to pay the three women $134 million.  But Washoe County District Judge Robert Perry granted Wyeth’s motion to find the damages excessive. He ordered them reduced to about $58 million total.

Prempro and Premarin are Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) drugs.  Prempro combines estrogen and progestin into one pill, while Premarin is an estrogen replacement medication.  The drugs are prescribed to treat women experiencing menopausal symptoms that include mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and osteoporosis.  In 2003, a large federal study linked HRT drugs like Prempro and Premarin to an increased risk of breast cancer. Within months, millions of women stopped taking HRT.  In 2007, a study by the National Cancer Institute found that breast cancer incidence rates in women in the United States fell 6.7 percent in 2003 from the previous year and have since stabilized.  Many experts attributed the drop in breast cancer rates to the fact that many women quit using HRTs once they were linked to breast cancer.

Jurors in the Reno case had awarded Jeraldine Scofield, 74, Arlene Rowatt, 67 and Pamela Forrester, 65, 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. But in his ruling, Judge Perry said he was concerned that the Jury’s decision in the case was influenced by "passion and prejudice".  He reduced the award to $23 million in compensatory and $35 million in punitive damages.

The new judgment 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.  According to the Associated Press, the award against Wyeth still stands as the largest personal injury award in Nevada history, and it is the largest award to date against Wyeth, which faces about 5,300 similar lawsuits across the country in state and federal courts.

Lawyers for the women told the Associated Press that the reduced award did nothing to mitigate Wyeth’s liability for the any plaintiff’s injuries.  "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," one of the lawyers said.

Despite his decision to reduce the judgment, Judge Perry seemed to agree with this assessment.  In his opinion, the Judge wrote, "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.”

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