Varying Jury Verdicts in Latest Pfizer Litigation

A Philadelphia jury on February 22 ordered Pfizer’s Wyeth unit to pay $6 million in punitive damages and $3.45 million in compensatory damages to an Alabama woman who claimed she developed breast cancer as a result of taking the company’s hormone-replacement drug Prempro. Just two days later on February 24, in a case involving very similar facts, another Philadelphia jury found that Pfizer was not a cause of an Indiana woman’s breast cancer and Pfizer was not held liable for damages.

Prempro is a combination of Pfizer hormone medications Premarin and Provera and was used by more than six million women to treat symptoms of menopause before a 2002 Women’s Health Initiative study highlighted the drugs’ links to cancer. Prempro is still on the market, now with increased warnings reflecting results of the 2002 study. However, more than 8,000 lawsuits have been filed against Pfizer by former users of the drug since publication of the 2002 study.

As these two February cases demonstrate, results of the lawsuits have varied. Before this most recent victory for Pfizer on February 24, Business Week reports that Pfizer had lost seven out of the 10 Prempro cases to have gone before juries — the $9.45 million verdict in favor of the Alabama plaintiff had been Pfizer’s fifth loss in a row. However, the Philadelphia Inquirer also reports that two of the jury verdicts in favor of plaintiffs were reversed posttrial, and several other jury verdicts are being challenged by Pfizer on appeal. In addition, it reports that as of February 23, 2010, Pfizer had won five summary judgment motions in its Prempro litigation and 15 of its cases set for trial have been voluntarily dismissed by plaintiffs.

Because the outcomes of these suits and the juries’ interpretation of the facts appear to vary so greatly, it likely will only fuel plaintiffs’ and Pfizer’s fervor in arguing their cases at trial. Indeed, James A. Morris, an Austin, Texas lawyer who represented the family of the Indiana Prempro plaintiff who recently lost her battle against Pfizer, is quoted by the Philadelphia Inquirer as saying, “Nothing about today’s verdict changes the landscape of this litigation. We will continue to fight on in other cases.” Lawyers for Pfizer, on the other hand, have maintained that the company acted responsibly in conducting and supporting more than 180 studies on the benefits and risks of use of the drug. Pfizer has said it will appeal the Philadelphia jury’s recent $9.45 million verdict.