By Jef Feeley (Bloomberg)
Pfizer Inc. must pay more than $45 million in damages to two women who blamed the company’s menopause drugs for their breast cancers, an appeals court ruled.
Connie Barton and Donna Kendall, two Illinois women who sued Pfizer units Wyeth and Pharmacia & Upjohn over their menopause medications, deserved both compensatory and punitive damages over the companies’ handling of the drugs, a panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court judge ruled yesterday.
“We are very disappointed with the court’s decisions in these cases and continue to believe there was no basis in fact or law for the jury verdicts,” Chris Loder, a spokesman for New York-based Pfizer, said in an e-mailed statement. Pfizer officials will ask the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to review the lower court’s findings, he said.
More than 6 million women took Prempro and related menopause drugs to treat symptoms including hot flashes and mood swings before a 2002 study highlighted their links to cancer. At one point, Pfizer and its units faced more than 10,000 lawsuits over the medications.
“This is a great way to start 2012 for these two brave women,” Zoe Littlepage, one of Barton’s lawyers, said in a telephone interview today. Under the appellate ruling, Barton would get a total of $11.2 million while Kendall would get $34.3 million, Littlepage said.
Wyeth’s sales of its Prempro and Premarin medicines, which are still on the market, exceeded $2 billion before the release of the Women’s Health Initiative study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.
$840 Million Reserve
Until 1995, many menopausal women combined Wyeth’s Premarin, an estrogen-based drug, with progestin-laden Provera, made by Pfizer’s Upjohn unit, to relieve their symptoms. Wyeth combined the two hormones in its Prempro pill.
At the height of the litigation, Pfizer faced more than 10,000 claims that its menopause drugs caused breast cancer, according to lawyers for former users. Those lawsuits included more than 8,000 cases consolidated in federal court in Arkansas and suits in state courts in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Minnesota.
The company has begun settling some suits and has set aside $840 million so far to resolve cases, officials said in November. Pfizer has resolved about 46 percent of the pending Prempro suits, officials said.
Compensatory, Punitive Damages
In Barton’s case, a Philadelphia jury awarded the retired records clerk $3.7 million in compensatory damages and $75 million in punitives in October 2009. A judge later reduced the punitive award against Wyeth by more than 90 percent to $5.6 million.
A month later, a separate Philadelphia jury awarded Kendall $6.3 million in compensatory damages and $28 million in punitive damages from both Wyeth and Pharmacia & Upjohn. A judge later cut that punitive award to $1 million.
The state appellate court combined the two verdicts for review since both involved Illinois residents who brought their suits in Pennsylvania. Wyeth has operations in the state.
The court ruled jurors properly found that Wyeth and Upjohn should be held liable for breast cancers tied to their menopause drugs and both properly faced punitive damage awards over their handling of the medication.
Kendall’s whole $28 million punitive award was upheld while Barton’s final punitive award was increased by almost $2 million to $7.4 million under the court’s ruling.
“There was sufficient evidence of gross negligence and willful and wanton misconduct to support imposition of punitive damages,” the panel said in its 46-page ruling in Barton’s case.
The court noted that while Kendall’s punitive award was large, it “correlated with the enormity of the defendants’ wrongs, their clear liability and the devastating impact on the plaintiff,” according to the 53-page decision.
“This is an extraordinary victory for Mrs. Kendall,” Tobi Millrood, one of her lawyers, said in an e-mailed statement.
“The appellate court didn’t mince words: Wyeth and Upjohn engaged in a pattern of misconduct that was not the result of mere accident or happenstance.”
The cases are Connie J. Barton v. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc., 694 EDA 2010, Superior Court of Pennsylvania; Donna Kendall v. Wyeth Inc., 936 EDA 2010, Superior Court of Pennsylvania.