Margaret B. Fraser and Joseph T. Fraser v. Wyeth and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals: A Connecticut federal judge has upheld a jury verdict that totals nearly $5.8 million in the case of a Lakeville woman who claimed she developed breast cancer after taking the menopause drug Prempro.
Drug maker Wyeth Inc., owned by Pfizer Inc., had asked U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton to reverse the jury’s 2012 verdict and rule there was not enough evidence to support the decision. The defendants also filed a separate motion for a new trial. Arterton denied both requests in a written ruling released earlier this month.
“Wyeth’s conduct was sufficiently reprehensible to justify an award of punitive damages,” wrote Arterton. “The injuries proximately caused by Wyeth’s conduct undisputedly involved grave physical injury to Ms. Fraser, the specter of which hangs over her and her family to this day.”
Margaret “Maggie” Fraser, a retired elementary school principal, had been awarded $4 million following a three-and-a-half week trial in U.S. District Court in April 2012. This past summer, Arterton awarded an additional $1.76 million to the plaintiffs for punitive damages.
Since the jury verdict in Fraser’s case, hundreds of other cases involving Prempro have settled nationwide. There’s been a 50-50 split in trial results, said lawyers involved in the cases, with 12 plaintiffs’ verdicts and a dozen defense verdicts.
Prempro, a combination of two hormones, estrogen and progestin, was approved by the FDA in 1994 and has remained on the market ever since. The drug was commonly prescribed until 2002, when a study by the Women’s Health Initiative highlighted its link to cancer. The label for the drug indicated that it could be prescribed for menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal atrophy and the prevention of osteoporosis.
Lawyers for Fraser say the drug was responsible for 200,000 cases of breast cancer over the decade it was on the market, as it was one of the best-selling drugs during that period.
Pfizer maintains that hormone therapy medicines are an important treatment option for many women with debilitating symptoms of menopause and that the FDA has regularly reviewed the benefits and risks of these drugs.
Fraser sued Wyeth, and her lawyers were able to persuade the jury that the drug company did not provide adequate warnings about the breast cancer risk to Fraser’s doctor. If Fraser had known about the breast cancer risk, she said she would not have taken the drug.
“Wyeth engaged in a long-term campaign to muddy the waters regarding the risks posed by Prempro, directing its sales representatives to obfuscate and mislead doctors regarding the results of recent medical trials, all while failing to perform the necessary studies to clarify the relationship between Prempro and breast cancer,” Arterton wrote in her most recent ruling. “Such a pattern of behavior indicates an ongoing, reckless disregard for the health and safety of others, beyond mere accident.”
Lawyers for Fraser said they were pleased with the latest ruling. But a Pfizer spokesman said “there is no basis in fact or law for either the liability verdict or the punitive award in this case.”
Pfizer officials said they were considering their next step. One of the lawyers for Fraser, Neal Moskow of Ury & Moskow in Fairfield, said he expects the company to appeal.
“While the defendants haven’t given notice of an appeal as of yet, we fully expect that they will do so given that they have fully litigated every nuance of this case since it was filed in November 2004,” said Moskow.
Gregory Bubalo of Bubalo Rotman in Louisville, Ky., also represented Fraser.
“My clients continued the fight, even after all these years, because they understood that the jury’s verdict and Judge Arterton’s opinion is important not only to them, but to others who may suffer in the future from reprehensible conduct, at the hands of a drug manufacturer like Wyeth,” said Bubalo.•