July 24, 2012 — An appeals court has ruled that a jury properly decided that the drug company Pfizer Inc. must pay $10.4 million to compensate a woman who developed breast cancer after taking Prempro, a menopause drug. Audey Singleton sued Pfizer’s Wyeth unit, accusing the company of minimizing the risk of side effects associated with Prempro. The jury awarded her punitive and compensatory damages of $10.4 million back in 2010, and Pfizer appealed the amount as excessive.
A three-judge panel that reviewed the jury’s decision agreed that the amount was reasonable, saying that “Wyeth’s concerted effort to misdirect physicians from the dangers of Prempro illustrates the consciousness that its conduct was not at all reasonable.”
Singleton was initially awarded the $10.4 million verdict in 2010. A Philadelphia jury found that she deserved $3.4 million in compensatory damages and $6 million in punitive damages. The judge also awarded nearly $1 million in interest. Pfizer appealed the decision, calling the amount excessive. However, the appeals panel disagreed, saying “There is nothing in the record that illustrates the $6 million punitive damages award was grossly excessive as to shock our sense of justice.”
Pfizer (which acquired Wyeth amid the litigation) has been working to settle thousands of lawsuits from women injured by the medications. At one point, there were more than 10,000 lawsuits pending against the company. Pfizer has already paid nearly $900 million to settle these lawsuits, which amounts to about 60% of all the lawsuits. The company has allocated $330 million to resolve the rest of the cases.
Prempro is a combination of estrogen-based Premarin and progestin-based Provera. It was promoted as a way to reduce symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and mood swings. Unfortunately, researchers found that Prempro could also increase the risk of breast cancer. Many women have filed lawsuits against Wyeth for downplaying or hiding the health risks.