Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc. asked the Nevada Supreme Court for a new trial over its hormone replacement drugs, arguing Monday that a Reno jury wasn't properly instructed on punitive damages before awarding three women a multimillion dollar judgment on claims the drugs caused their breast cancer.
Lane Heard, a Washington, D.C., lawyer representing the Madison, N.J.-based pharmaceutical giant that has since been acquired by Pfizer Inc., said the jury's "premature" deliberation of punitive damages and comments about Wyeth executives' salaries made by the women's attorneys prejudiced jurors against the company.
Jurors in 2007 initially awarded Jeraldine Scofield of Fallon, Arlene Rowatt of Incline Village and Pamela Forrester of Yerington a combined $134.5 million. But after a bailiff overheard a discussion and jury confusion became apparent, Washoe District Judge Robert Perry ordered them to reconsider.
They slashed $100 million from the compensatory judgment, awarding a combined $35 million to the women for past and future medical expenses, pain and suffering. Following a separate hearing, they then imposed $99 million in punitive damages intended to punish the company.
Forrester died eight months later.
Once the jury deliberated without being instructed, "it was not a fair and impartial jury," Heard said, arguing that after the judge determined jurors prematurely awarded punitive damages, a new trial, with new jurors, should have been ordered.
Perry later reduced the overall judgment to $58 million -- still the largest personal injury award in Nevada history -- ruling that the original award was excessive.
Lawyers for the women countered that the mistake was inadvertent and corrected by the trial judge.
"There was no juror misconduct," Zoe Littlepage said. "They didn't know there was going to be a second stage to assess punitive damages."
Regarding Wyeth executive salaries, Peter Chase Neumann, another attorney for the women, said the executives testified as expert witnesses for the drug company and their salaries had been admitted as evidence during trial.
Justices took the arguments under submission and will rule at a later date.
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