Pa. Judge Overturns $3 Million Award in Wyeth Prempro Drug Case

December 10, 2007

A woman who claimed that Wyeth’s hormone-replacement drug caused her breast cancer did not have sufficient evidence to show that the company acted negligently, said a judge in Pennsylvania who overturned a $3 million award in the woman’s case.

The opinion by Judge Ricardo C. Jackson comes as Wyeth battles thousands of similar cases, one of which ended with a recent $134 million verdict for three women who sued Wyeth in Nevada.

Only four of about 1,500 cases pending in Philadelphia have gone to trial. Each time, a jury sided with the plaintiff only to have the judge reverse the verdict, lawyer Tobi Millrood said.

His client, Jennie Nelson, of Dayton, Ohio, was diagnosed in 2001 after taking Prempro for five years to treat symptoms of menopause. Her lawyers argued that Wyeth knew for decades the drug could cause breast cancer, yet failed to issue adequate warnings.

A jury this year awarded her $3 million in damages, but Jackson later ruled the evidence did not support the verdict.

Nelson, 68, is appealing that ruling to the state Superior Court, a process that led Jackson to file the opinion outlining his reasoning.

According to Jackson, Nelson failed to prove that Prempro — a combination estrogen-progestin pill — caused her cancer. She also failed to prove that her doctor relied on the information in Wyeth’s warning label before prescribing it, he said.

Nelson’s doctor testified that she relies on medical literature, conferences and other sources when weighing the risks and benefits of a drug, Jackson wrote.

“I think the opinion clearly shows that Wyeth warned about breast cancer long before the plaintiff took the drug or was diagnosed with cancer,” Barbara R. Binis, a lawyer representing Wyeth, said.

Millrood noted that Jackson’s reasoning is unique to the Nelson case and does not signal how the other cases might play out.

“These are all individual cases,” Millrood said. “If Wyeth were to now contend that the findings in Nelson apply similarly to all other cases, then they might as well agree to certify a class action.” The company has fought class-action certification.

More than 5,000 women have sued Madison, N.J.-based Wyeth over its hormone drugs Premarin and Prempro. Wyeth’s pharmaceutical division is based in Collegeville.

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