September 12, 2012 — After sitting through four weeks of deliberations, a jury in Utah has decided to award a woman $5.1 million in compensatory damages for her Prempro breast cancer lawsuit. Pfizer has vowed to appeal the decision. The drug company is currently in the midst of a massive litigation surrounding several hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medications, including Prempro, Provera, and Premarin.
The woman, Toshiko Okuda, used several combinations of HRT medications after undergoing a hysterectomy in 1985. After suffering severe menopausal symptoms, she used the medications for the next 17 years. In 2002, she was diagnosed with infiltrating ductal breast cancer. Her cancer treatment was successful. Okuda filed her HRT breast cancer lawsuit in 2004, joining thousands of other women who filed lawsuits alleging that the drug-makers negligently failed to warn women about the potential risk of breast cancer.
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health established the link between HRT and invasive ductal breast cancer in a study of data from the Women’s Health Initiative. At the time, millions of women were using HRT medications to treat menopausal symptoms. Approximately 10,000 lawsuits were filed. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and Upjohn (drug companies that are now part of Pfizer) have resolved about 60% of the lawsuits for $900 million. They have set aside $330 million to resolve the rest of the litigation.
Christopher Loder, spokesman for Pfizer, said, “We are disappointed with the jury’s verdict and believe there is no basis in fact or law for this decision. … Hormone replacement therapy medicines are an important treatment option for many women with debilitating symptoms of menopause.” The company has vowed to appeal the decision, as they have with most other jury verdicts in the Prempro litigation.
Under Utah law, the U.S. District Court jury was only allowed to award her compensatory damages — not punitive damages. Juries in other states have awarded similar lawsuits substantially higher awards. In 2010, a jury awarded Audrey Singleton $10.4 million for her Prempro lawsuit. Pfizer appealed the decision, calling it “excessive.” In July 2012, a three appeals court judges decided to uphold the jury’s decision, saying, “Wyeth’s concerted effort to misdirect physicians from the dangers of Prempro illustrates the consciousness that its conduct was not at all reasonable.”