Another Philadelphia jury has decided that drugmaker Wyeth should be punished with punitive damages for the warnings provided to a plaintiff and her doctor over the risk of breast cancer from Wyeth's hormonal drug Prempro.
The jury awarded $6 million in punitive damages and $3.45 million in compensatory damages Monday in Singleton v. Wyeth. According to plaintiffs' counsel Zoe Littlepage of Littlepage Booth in Houston, this case is the first in the country involving a plaintiff diagnosed with breast cancer well after the July 2002 release of the Women's Health Initiative, a randomized, controlled trial of the risks and benefits of hormone replacement.
The WHI received national notoriety because the study was discontinued early because of its finding that HRT correlated to an increased risk of invasive breast cancer and other health problems.
Littlepage said the jury's verdict was significant because plaintiff Audrey Singleton was prescribed Prempro during a period in which the label had changed following the WHI, and the jury verdict showed the jury found that Wyeth didn't react appropriately to the WHI.
"We think the jury's verdict is a very important statement to Wyeth that the community of Pennsylvania does not appreciate the way Wyeth acted toward the grandmothers of this country," Littlepage said.
After four hours of deliberation, the jury awarded Singleton, of Chatom, Ala., $3.25 million in compensatory damages after finding that Wyeth failed to adequately warn Singleton's doctor about the risks of Prempro; that Singleton's doctor would have recommended a different treatment for Singleton's menopause if he had been adequately warned of the risks of Prempro; and that Prempro was a cause of Singleton's breast cancer.
The jury also awarded $200,000 for the loss of consortium claim brought by Singleton's husband, Charles Singleton. The jury also said that Wyeth's conduct warrants punitive damages.
The jury only deliberated seven minutes during the punitive damages phase before returning its verdict of $6 million.
Judge Mark I. Bernstein presided at the.
When the jury was polled during the liability phase, 11 of 12 jurors found in favor of the plaintiffs. When the jury was polled during the punitive damages phase, all 12 jurors agreed with the verdict.
The verdict in Singleton has continued the run of jury verdicts in favor of plaintiffs in Philadelphia hormone replacement therapy cases. There are 1,500 HRT mass tort cases pending in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.
Singleton used Wyeth-made Prempro, a combination estrogen-progestin drug, for six years before her diagnosis with breast cancer in January 2004.
Samuel Abloeser of Williams Cuker Berezofsky in Philadelphia, among others, also represents the Singletons. Heidi Hubbard of Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C., and David Dukes of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough of Columbia, S.C., among others, represents Wyeth, now owned by Pfizer.
In a statement, Wyeth expressed disappointment in the verdict.
Wyeth also said in its statement that it has won in 24 of 29 HRT cases set for trial through a combination of rulings by judges, verdicts by juries and dismissals by plaintiffs to avoid going to trial.
Among the still-pending plaintiffs' verdicts are several Philadelphia verdicts.
Last fall, a jury awarded $75 million in punitive damages and $3.7 million in compensatory damages to the plaintiffs in Barton v. Wyeth. The total Barton award now stands at $10.6 million after a judicial remittitur. Also last fall, a jury awarded $28 million in punitive damages and $6 million in compensatory damages against Wyeth and Pharmacia & Upjohn in Kendall v. Wyeth.
Three other Philadelphia verdicts in favor of plaintiffs in the HRT litigation were overturned by trial judges and now are on appeal.
During arguments on punitive damages, Littlepage said defendant Wyeth made a concerted effort from 1975 to 2004 to not study any risks of breast cancer associated with its blockbuster-selling drug Prempro and to downplay negative findings in research conducted by others.
"Corporations listen through money," Littlepage said.
Dukes asked the jury to punish out of a place of rationality, not a place of anger. Dukes said that Wyeth employees have made "a real effort" to make sure the Prempro warnings were fair, understandable and adapted to the current state of scientific knowledge. He also argued that there is a reasonable debate among scientists about breast cancer.
Another HRT trial, Foust v. Wyeth, is set for closing arguments today.