No Punitive Damages in Wyeth Hormone Drug Case

February 1, 2007

A Pennsylvania judge ruled that Wyeth will not pay punitive damages to a woman who alleged that the pharmaceutical giant’s menopause drug was responsible for her breast cancer.

A jury on Monday awarded $1.5 million (euro1.16 million) in compensatory damages to Mary Daniel, 60, and her husband in their lawsuit against the drug maker, one of about 5,000 against Wyeth over hormone drugs Premarin and Prempro.

On Tuesday, Common Pleas Judge Myrna Field ruled that there was not sufficient evidence presented at trial for the jury to reach its conclusion that, in addition to the $1.5 million (euro1.16 million), Wyeth should pay punitive damages as well.

Jurors had concluded in their verdict that Wyeth’s conduct was “malicious, wanton, willful, or oppressive, or showed reckless indifference.” When that standard is met, another round of deliberations proceeds to determine punitive damages.

The jury was allowed to continue deliberating to determine a dollar amount, though the final figure would remain sealed by the court. The number could be disclosed, however, if a higher court ends up overruling Field’s decision on appeal.

Lawyers for both sides declined to comment, citing a gag order.

Daniel, the plaintiff, said that after about 16 months of taking Prempro — a combination of estrogen and progestin– to relieve hot flashes, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

During the three-week trial, her attorneys argued that Wyeth failed to conduct studies on the drug or warn doctors and patients about its risks. Wyeth’s attorneys contend that Daniel had several risk factors that predisposed her to breast cancer and that it began long before her Prempro use.

Daniel, of Hot Springs, Arkansas, had a normal mammogram result in March 1999, and started on Prempro in December 1999. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2001. After her diagnosis, she had two surgeries and underwent chemotherapy and radiation. She has been cancer-free since.

Wyeth won its first trial over the drug in Arkansas in August, and a mistrial was declared in the second trial in Philadelphia in October. Trials are ongoing in two other cases, with decisions expected within a few weeks.

The company’s pharmaceutical division is based in Collegeville.

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