Supreme Court Rejects Pfizer Punitive Damages Appeal

June 22, 2010

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Pfizer Inc.’s appeal of a ruling that ordered a retrial on how much punitive damages should be awarded to a woman who developed breast cancer after taking the company’s hormone replacement therapy drugs.

Pfizer in its appeal argued that a retrial limited to just punitive damages had violated its constitutional right to a jury trial and that the trial judge in the case had improperly admitted the testimony of a scientific expert.

An Arkansas jury in 2008 sided with Donna Scroggin in her lawsuit against two Pfizer units — Wyeth and Upjohn. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, after taking hormone replacement therapy drugs for 11 years.

The jury awarded her compensatory damages of $2.7 million and punitive damages of $19.4 million against Wyeth, and $7.8 million against Upjohn.

A U.S. appeals court upheld the jury’s award of compensatory damages and said a federal judge had correctly set aside the punitive damages award against Upjohn as a matter of law. The appeals court ordered a new trial on punitive damages involving Wyeth.

Pfizer in its appeal opposed a partial retrial limited to punitive damages, saying it would lead to confusion and uncertainty for the jury and would be a denial of its right to a fair trial.

The pharmaceutical company and legal groups supporting it said the appeals court should have ordered an entirely new trial. On Monday, the Supreme Court rejected the company’s appeal without any comment.

In 2002, the National Institutes of Health published the results of its study that linked the use of hormone replacement therapy to breast cancer.

Pfizer’s shares were little changed at $15.19 in late morning trading.

In New York, Pfizer said it was disappointed by the court’s decision not to hear the case, but said the plaintiff ultimately must prove that punitive damages are warranted against Wyeth.

“We continue to believe that Wyeth and Pharmacia & Upjohn acted responsibly by conducting or supporting more than 180 studies on hormone therapy’s benefits and risks, keeping the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully informed and providing proper, accurate and science-based information to patients and doctors,” it said.

Pfizer said it has prevailed in the vast majority of hormone therapy cases set for trial through a combination of rulings by judges, verdicts by juries, and dismissals by plaintiffs themselves to avoid going to trial.

(Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Maureen Bavdek)

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