8th Circuit Affirms Arkansas Court Ruling in Products Liability Case

November 5, 2009

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit has upheld Arkansas district court decisions in a products liability case against pharmaceutical companies that are the makers of hormone therapy drugs that, combined, have been linked to breast cancer.

In Donna Scroggin, v. Wyeth, and its divisions; Pharmacia & Upjohn Company L.L.C., (Case Nos: 08-2555, 08-2711 and 08-2713) on appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, the plaintiff had sued the companies for failing to warn her that taking combinations of estrogen and progestin hormone therapy drugs manufactured by the defendants would put her at risk for breast cancer, which she developed 11 years after she began taking the drugs.

According to the opinion published by the 8th Circuit Court, “A jury returned a verdict finding Wyeth and Upjohn liable and awarding Scroggin compensatory damages. The district court denied Wyeth’s and Upjohn’s motions for judgment as a matter of law on liability. Following the second phase of the trial, the jury awarded Scroggin punitive damages.”

Wyeth and Upjohn appealed, arguing that Scroggin’s claim was preempted by federal drug labeling requirements, that she waited too long to file her claim and the statute of limitations had run out, and that she failed to prove that the combination of hormone therapy drugs caused her condition.

“Wyeth and Upjohn also contend that the district court erred in admitting Scroggin’s expert evidence on specific causation and in instructing the jury on proximate causation,” according to 8th Circuit opinion.

The defendants also had argued that “the evidence was not sufficient to show that an adequate warning would have prevented Scroggin’s breast cancer.”

The 8th Circuit, however, agreed with the jury’s finding that the plaintiff had presented “evidence on specific and proximate causation … sufficient to support the jury’s verdict finding Wyeth and Upjohn liable for her injuries.” The 8th Circuit affirmed “the jury verdict and its award of compensatory damages.” The panel found that the defendants had shown no evidence that “the FDA would not have permitted the strengthening of the labels” of the hormone drugs “in a manner consistent with Arkansas law” and they had “not shown that the state requirements obstruct the purposes of federal drug labeling regulation.”

In addition, the 8th Circuit maintained that because the plaintiff’s “claim did not accrue until the publication of a study by the Women’s Health Initiative linking hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer,” it was not barred by the Arkansas statute of limitations.

The district court had issued a grant of judgment as a matter of law to Upjohn concerning the punitive damages and the 8th Circuit affirmed. “Most of the evidence presented during the punitive damages phase concerned Wyeth,” the 8th Circuit noted, and Upjohn “did not conceal or restrict the dissemination of the information.” The district court and the 8th Circuit concluded that “there was not substantial evidence showing that Upjohn acted with ‘such a conscious indifference to the consequences that malice may be inferred.'”

With respect to Wyeth, the 8th Circuit Court adopted “the district court’s alternative finding and remands the matter for a new trial on punitive damages, as the evidence could allow a jury to find or infer that Wyeth was guilty of malicious conduct.”

The 8th Circuit Court also upheld the compensatory damages against both Wyeth and Upjohn.

Source: U.S. Eight Circuit Court of Appeals

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