Prempro Punitive Damage Award Upheld on Appeal

A $10.4 million verdict against Pfizer will stand, including about $6 million in punitive damages as a result of the drug maker’s decision to withhold information about the risk of breast cancer from Prempro, after an appeals court determined that there was nothing grossly excessive or shocking about the award. 

The damages were awarded by a Philadelphia jury in a 2010, as a result of a Prempro lawsuit brought by Audrey Singleton, who alleged that side effects of the hormone replacement therapy (HRT) caused her to develop breast cancer.

After finding that the Pfizer subsidiary Wyeth failed to adequately warn Singleton and other users about the risk of breast cancer, $3.4 million in compensatory damages were awarded. The jury then added another $6 million in punitive damages, which are designed to punish the company for recklessly endangering patients for profits. The judge added about another $1 million to the award for interest.

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Pfizer has been fighting for two years to get the verdict overturned. However, in a decision issued last week, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the award and indicated that the evidence established that Wyeth tried to mislead physicians about Prempro health risks.

Prempro Lawsuits and Settlements in Other Cases

Prempro contains a combination of the drugs Provera and Premarin, which artificially boost hormone levels in women undergoing menopause due to surgery or in postmenopausal women. Known as hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, the drugs are designed to provide relief from symptoms such as hot flashes, irregular menstruation or weight gain.

Pfizer faces a number of similar lawsuits brought on behalf of women who developed breast cancer after Prempro use, with most of the complaints coming after a 2002 study by the National Institutes of Health found that women receiving HRT were at a higher risk of breast cancer, strokes and heart attacks. By that time, Prempro and other HRT drugs had been used by more than 6 million women.

While Pfizer has been successful in some of the cases, when they lose, they often lose big. Many of the lawsuits have resulted in multi-million dollar verdicts, including punitive damages awarded after juries have found that Wyeth, which was later acquired by Pfizer, knew that there was an increased risk of breast cancer linked to Prempro use and then tried to cover it up.

Earlier this year, Pfizer indicated that it will pay about $1.2 billion total to settle about 10,000 Prempro breast cancer lawsuits still pending against the company.

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