CARSON CITY — The Nevada Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a $58 million judgment awarded to three Northern Nevada women who claimed they suffered breast cancer from a menopause drug manufactured by Wyeth Pharmaceutical Inc.
In the 6-0 decision written by Justice Michael Cherry, justices found the judge’s award to Arlene Rowatt of Incline Village, Pamela Forrester of Yerington and Jeraldine Scofield of Fallon was not excessive. Washoe County District Judge Robert Perry had reduced the judgment from $134 million awarded by a jury.
Forrester and Rowatt have died since the 2007 decision, making the ruling “bittersweet,” one of their attorneys said.
Wyeth sold the hormone replacement drugs Premarin and Prempro, which were designed to relieve menopause. The women took the drugs for several years and developed breast cancer.
Studies as early as the 1980s found a link between an increase in breast cancer and the hormone therapy that used Premarin, according to the court decision.
“Internal Wyeth documents show that it responded to studies suggesting a possible breast cancer risk by downplaying the risk through public relations campaigns and its sales representatives’ interactions with physicians,” Cherry wrote.
The Food and Drug Administration in 1994, relying on studies performed at Wyeth’s request, approved Prempro as safe and effective.
But the FDA put warnings on the drug’s label that stated some studies found there was a moderately increased risk of breast cancer in using the drug. But it also said Wyeth’s human study found breast cancer rates did “not exceed that expected in the general population.”
Wyeth never conducted “its own human study,” Cherry noted.
Because Wyeth tried to hide potential harmful consequences of the drugs, and substantial evidence showed it acted with malice, the court found the damages were warranted.
“The harm caused in this case was physical — breast cancer and its resulting surgeries and treatment. Wyeth’s misrepresentations and concealment of data showed reckless disregard for the health and safety of the users of its drugs. The harm suffered by respondents was the result of Wyeth’s malicious activities and deceit,” Cherry wrote. “Over the years, Wyeth organized task forces to contain any negative publicity about hormone therapy and breast cancer”
Pfizer Inc. bought Wyeth for $68 billion in 2009. Pfizer officials said the company was disappointed by the decision and is considering its legal options.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900.