$103 Million in Punitives Awarded in Breast Cancer Cases

Pfizer was slammed with $103 million in punitive damages in Philadelphia last week in the cases of two women from Central Illinois who took hormonal drugs and later developed breast cancer. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/24/business/24wyeth.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=berezofsky%20&%20breast%20cancer&st=cse and http://www.law.com/jsp/cc/PubArticleCC.jsp?id=1202435798726&M_Hit_for_Pfizer_Two_Huge_Hormone_Replacement_Therapy_Verdicts

Those decisions follow a devastating decision by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Scroggins v. Wyeth (now owned by Pfizer), that details Wyeth’s “dismiss and distract” strategy of the last three decades to maintain its lucrative franchise in hormone replacement drugs – decades after a connection between doses of estrogen and breast and other gynecological cancers were discovered. http://www.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/09/11/082555P.pdf The decision was written by Circuit Judge Roger Wollman. http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/288/3/321

The cases are just the tip of the iceberg of breast cancer litigation, which is estimated to have reached 10,000 cases nationwide, including 1,500 in Philadelphia. 

Leading Pfizer’s defense is general counsel Amy Schulman, perhaps the leading product liability defense counsel in the country; before she joined Pfizer, she had a book of business estimated at $65 million when practicing at DLA, where she was the highest paid partner.http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2006/09/21/hbs-studies-dla-pipers-amy-schulman/ and http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2008/05/28/dlas-amy-schulman-lands-top-legal-job-at-pfizer/

In the Philadelphia cases, Houston’s Littlepage Booth http://www.littlepagebooth.com/
led the charge alongside Esther Berezofsky of Williams Cuker & Berezofsky http://www.wcblegal.com/attorneys.php?action=view&id=2. They won $75 million in punitives and $3.75 million in compensatory damages for Connie Barton of Peoria, IL.

Littlepage Booth, comprised of Zoe Littlepage and Rainey Booth, currently represents more than 1,000 women who have been injured by Hormone Replacement Therapy.

Littlepage, Ron Rosenkranz of Finkelstein & Partners and Tobias L. Millrood of Pogust Braslow Millrood http://www.pbmattorneys.com/millrood.php
won $28 million in punitives and $6.3 million in compensatory damages for Donna Kendall of Decatur, IL, whose breast cancer was found after she had taken hormone drugs for 11 years.

The litigation could be enormous given longstanding belief in the breast cancer community that hormonal treatment triggered breast cancer – beliefs that were denied by pharmaceutical companies and some medical writers, whose work was funded by those companies. A study by the Women’s Health Institute in 2002 linked hormone replacement therapy with breast cancer. http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/288/3/321

Hormonal drugs are still used by millions of women to treat menopause. The drugs at issue in the Philadelphia litigation both deliver estrogen; Premarin and Prempro are made by Wyeth, while Provera is made by Pharmacia and Upjohn. Pfizer acquired Pharmacia in 2003 and Wyeth in January 2009.

The recent decision by Judge Wollman, joined by Senior Circuit Judge John R. Gibson http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_R._Gibson
 and Judge Diana Murphy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diana_E._Murphy
 upheld compensatory awards to Donna Scroggins against Wyeth and Upjohn, as well as a punitive award against Upjohn, but awarded a new punitive phase against Wyeth.  The court found “there was sufficient evidence upon which a jury could conclude that Wyeth acted with reckless disregard to the risk of injury.” Scroggins won #27.1 million against Wyeth and Upjohn in March 2008. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aHJ8LaF1INvE&refer=home

Scroggins was represented by Austin lawyer James A. Morris Jr. of The Morris Law Firm.  http://www.jamlawyers.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6&Itemid=4  Lyn Pruitt of Little Rock’s Mitchell Williams defended the pharmaceutical companies.http://mitchellwilliamslaw.com/bio.asp?bioID=48

The Philadelphia cases, also, required a finding of “wanton and reckless” conduct, which the jurors found because Wyeth paid consultants and ghostwriters of medical journal articles to downplay the risks of estrogen.

George McDavid of Reed Smith defended Wyeth in the Barton case. http://www.reedsmith.com/our_people.cfm?widCall1=customWidgets.content_view_1&cit_id=879 while a team of product liability defenders handled the Kendall case, including Reed Smith’s Barbara Binis http://www.reedsmith.com/our_people.cfm?cit_id=1350&widCall1=customWidgets.content_view_1
and Michael Scott, Charles Goodell of Goodell DeVries http://www.gdldlaw.com/content/bio_goodell.htm
 and Gita Rothschild of McCarter & English. http://www.mccarter.com/new/homenew.aspx?searchlink=showbionew&show=893

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One response to “$103 Million in Punitives Awarded in Breast Cancer Cases

  1. The Breast Cancer Advocacy Initiative was developed to provide legal advocacy training to lawyers, provide resources for lawyers and consumers dealing with breast cancer, and educating women, attorneys and policymakers on the range of legal issues impacting women’s health.

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