Las Vegas Sun

July 21, 2019

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Nevada Supreme Court backs hormone drug verdict

CARSON CITY – The Nevada Supreme Court has upheld a $57.7 million judgment against the drug company Wyeth filed by three women who say they got breast cancer after taking hormone pills manufactured by the firm.

The court, in a decision written by Justice Michael Cherry, said the judgment was supported by substantial evidence in the cases of Arlene Rowatt; Wendell Forrester, acting as special administrator for the estate of Pamela Forrester; and Jeraldine Schofield.

Each woman testified in the trial in Reno that she was seeking hormone therapy drugs and took the pills.

Wyeth manufactured an estrogen pill known as Premarin that was combined with a progestin pill made by a different pharmaceutical firm. Wyeth also made a combination hormone pill known as Prempro.

Cherry wrote that evidence was presented by the three women “about the various post-surgery treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation and the projected years of medication necessary to prevent the recurrence of cancer.”

The company said the drug was approved by the Federal Drug Administration and punitive damages should not be awarded in the case. The company says it put a warning on the drug labels to comply with regulations.

But the Supreme Court rejected that argument. In 2000, it said Wyeth added $40.4 million to its large yearly marketing budget to counter rising consumer awareness about the relationship between breast cancer risk and hormone replacement therapy.

“Wyeth also began promoting Prempro’s unproven and later debunked heart and mental health benefits in television advertisements and informational pamphlets, guides and textbooks,” the court said, adding the promotional materials failed to mention any breast cancer risk.

Wyeth argued at trial the cause of the breast cancer of the women was unknown and that the prescribed hormone therapy drugs didn't cause their cancer.

The original verdict by the jury was $134.6 million but was reduced by Washoe County District Judge Robert H. Perry to $57 million, plus $1.8 million for attorney fees and costs.

The Supreme Court rejected the argument by Wyeth that Rowatt and Scofield were taking the pills while living in other states before coming to Nevada. The company said they should not be permitted to sue in Nevada.

The court also denied the claim by Wyeth that an improper instruction was given to the jury.

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