Judge slashes $134 million award in drug case | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Judge slashes $134 million award in drug case

RENO ” Citing concerns that “passion and prejudice” inflated the verdict, a judge on Tuesday slashed a record $134 million judgment awarded to three Nevada women by a jury that decided a drug made by the giant pharmaceutical company Wyeth caused their breast cancer.

Washoe County District Court Judge Robert Perry granted the drug maker’s motion to find the damages excessive and ordered the award cut to about $58 million ” $23 million in compensatory and $35 million in punitive damages.

The reduced judgment remains the largest personal-injury award in Nevada history, lawyers for the women said, and it is the largest award to date against the Madison, N.J.-based company, which faces about 5,300 similar lawsuits across the country in state and federal courts.

All involve the drugs Premarin, an estrogen replacement, and Prempro, a combination of estrogen and progestin. The drugs are prescribed to women to ease menopause symptoms.

Perry said the jury’s judgment of $35 million in compensatory and $99 million in punitive suggested the amounts were “the result of passion and prejudice.” The judge said he “does not lightly deviate from the jury’s verdict” after telling lawyers last week that he had been “considering this issue for a long time.”

Officials for Wyeth welcomed the ruling but still planned to appeal.

“While it’s encouraging the district court has acknowledged the excessiveness of the award to some extent, it doesn’t change the fact that the verdict was irreparably flawed and fraught with error. We anticipate an opportunity for ultimate relief before the Nevada Supreme Court,” Wyeth spokesman Doug Petkus said.

Lawyers for the women said the ruling did not diminish Wyeth’s role in their breast cancer.

“These women were champions for justice before today’s ruling and will remain so notwithstanding this reduction in their verdicts,” Peter Wetherall said.

Wyeth lawyer Dan Webb had argued the jury verdict in October was “an extreme aberration” ” 30 times greater than juries have awarded in four similar cases.

“It’s an injustice,” he said. He argued for combined damages of about $5 million for the three women.

Petkus said that of five other similar cases that have gone to trial against Wyeth, four resulted in verdicts for Wyeth, while the other was remanded for a new trial.

Jurors in the Reno case had awarded Jeraldine Scofield, 74, of Fallon; Arlene Rowatt, 67, of Incline Village; and Pamela Forrester, 65, of Yerington a combined $35 million for medical expenses and physical and emotional pain and suffering. The same panel then awarded the women $99 million in punitive damages.

Perry’s new ruling awards: Rowatt $7.6 million in compensatory and $10 million in punitive damages; Forrester $8 million compensatory and $13 million punitive; and Scofield $7.3 million compensatory and $12 million punitive.

Zoe Littlepage, a lawyer for the women, had argued the jurors’ award was “very reasonable” given they “found this company caused these three women to get breast cancer.”

“But for taking this drug, they would not have gotten breast cancer,” she said.

Littlepage said the punitive award was “an insignificant amount of Wyeth’s net worth” ” less than 1 percent of its $14.65 billion.

Perry said the women had offered “very limited evidence and argument in support of compensatory damages,” limited primarily to past medical bills. But he said the punitive damages were different matter.

“There was substantial evidence from which the jury could conclude that Wyeth knew that its product could cause breast cancer, that it intentionally failed to conduct adequate tests, that it financed and manipulated scientific studies and sponsored articles in professional and scientific journals that deliberately minimized the risk of cancer while over-promoting certain benefits and citing others which it knew to be unsubstantiated,” Perry wrote.

“The evidence also supported the conclusion that Wyeth intentionally made similar misstatements and misleading assertions in its marketing to physicians and its advertising directed to the public,” the judge said.

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