Nevada Jury Awards Millions in Wyeth Drug Trial

October 15, 2007

A Nevada jury levied a $35 million judgment against pharmaceutical giant Wyeth in a lawsuit filed by three Nevada women who claimed the company’s hormone replacement drugs caused their breast cancer.

Initially, the award total was set at $134.5 million, but Washoe District Judge Robert Perry instructed the five-man, two-woman jury to reconsider after questions were raised about whether the judgment included punitive damages. The jury then slashed $100 million from its judgment after it conceded the previous award was improper because it was intended to punish the company for its hormone replacement drugs.

The Madison, N.J.-based company still faces about 5,300 similar lawsuits across the country in state and federal courts. All the lawsuits involve the drugs Premarin, an estrogen replacement, and Prempro, a combination of estrogen and progestin. The drugs are prescribed to women to ease symptoms of menopause.

The Reno panel deliberated for two days before announcing its verdict in favor of Jeraldine Scofield, 75, of Fallon; Arlene Rowatt, 67, of Incline Village; and Pamela Forrester, 64, of Yerington.

Wyeth spokesman Doug Petkus said the company would have no comment because the case was not finished. Washoe District Judge Robert Perry issued a gag order early in the proceedings.

But in an e-mail to The Associated Press, Petkus said 20 similar cases have gone to trial or been otherwise resolved. Of those, he said three resulted in favor of the company, two plaintiff verdicts were set aside by the courts, and three cases were dismissed on summary judgment.

Twelve other cases were voluntarily dismissed by plaintiffs before trial, he said.

During the Reno trial, Wyeth lawyers argued that the drugs are safe and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They also said information about possible risks is included with every prescription and provided to the women’s doctors.

They also argued that the women had other risk factors, making it impossible to link their cancer with the hormone replacement drugs.

The drug company reached an undisclosed settlement last October with a fourth woman who had been part of the Washoe District Court lawsuit.

Carol McCreary was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 after taking Prempro for about three years. Her case was settled just days before her trial was to begin.

“I am happy to get on with my life and not spend the next several weeks in a courtroom,” she said in a statement soon after the settlement was reached.

McCreary, 59, died in April.

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