Pfizer abruptly settles with plaintiffs in Phila. HRT drug case that earlier ended with $72 million jury verdict

By Jon Campisi | Dec 12, 2011

Drug manufacturer Pfizer announced it has agreed to settle a consolidated civil case involving three women, two from Pennsylvania and one former Keystone State resident, who allege they developed breast cancer after taking medication designed to control menopause symptoms.

The pharmaceutical giant’s announcement concerning the confidential settlement, which was reported Friday in the Philadelphia Inquirer, came just before the second phase in the mass tort trial was to get under way at Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court.

Earlier in the week, the first phase of the bifurcated and consolidated trial ended with a jury awarding the three women a total of $72.6 million in compensatory damages.

Friday was to mark the start of the liability and punitive damages phase, in which plaintiffs’ attorneys would attempt to prove that the hormone replacement therapy drugs ingested by the women were the direct cause of their respective diseases, and whether the company offered adequate warnings about the drug’s potential dangers.

Depending on the potential outcome of the second phase of the trial, the original award could have been either reduced or increased.

That appears moot now, though, after it was reported that the two parties reached a settlement agreement that appears to have an affect on the earlier jury verdict.

“There was a confidential resolution satisfactory to all parties,” plaintiff’s attorney Tobi Millrood, a partner with the Conshohocken, Pa.-based law firm Pogust, Braslow & Millrood, told the Inquirer Friday.

Millrood on Friday did not return a message seeking confirmation of the settlement and additional comment from the Pennsylvania Record.

In announcing the news on its own website, the law firm merely provided a Web link to the Inquirer article announcing the settlement.

The newspaper also quoted Pfizer spokesman Chris Loder as saying, “The parties have entered into a mutually agreeable resolution under confidential terms that will bring an end to this case, and will jointly ask the court to set aside the recent decision reached by the jury in this matter. In keeping with Pfizer’s long-standing policy, we have no further comment on the agreement.”

The three women – Susan Elfont, Bernadette Kalenkoski and Judy Mulderig – filed separate lawsuits against Wyeth in 2004. The filings were eventually consolidated.

Pfizer subsequently bought both Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and Pharmacia Upjohn, the companies specializing in the design and manufacture of the hormone replacement therapy drugs in question.

On Dec. 6, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury awarded $20 million to Elfont, $27.85 million to Kalenkoski and $24.75 million to Mulderig, according to the plaintiff’s attorneys.

Because the new settlement is confidential, it is not known how the compensation will be split up between the three women.

Meanwhile, in related news, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced that it will hear arguments by attorneys for Pfizer’s Wyeth unit who claim that a Philadelphia judge erred in allowing to stand a jury’s punitive damages award in a similar case involving a woman who claimed her breast cancer diagnosis was related to her taking the hormone replacement therapy drug Prempro, the drug that was also at the heart of the recent case involving the other three plaintiffs.

The high court announced Dec. 5 that it would allow a petition for allowance of appeal to move forward in the case of Mary and Thomas Daniel versus Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.

According to a Bloomberg news report Dec. 8, Daniel, a former bank manager from Arkansas, had sued the pharmaceutical company after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she claimed was the direct result of her ingestion of the Prempro pills.

After a trial at state court in Philadelphia in 2007, Daniel received a jury verdict of $10.2 million in total damages, according to Bloomberg and a review of Philadelphia court records. The award consisted of $1.6 million in compensatory damages and $8.6 million in punitive damages.

A judge later threw out the entire award, but earlier this year, a state appellate court reinstated the award after finding that the judge in the case didn’t err in refusing to give the drug manufacturer a new trial, Bloomberg reported.

In the spring, the drug company filed its petition for allowance of appeal to the state Supreme Court. That petition was granted earlier this week.

“We are pleased the court declined to consider any issue relating to Wyeth’s negligence in causing her breast cancer or Mrs. Daniel’s compensatory award,” Bloomberg quoted Daniel’s lawyer, Zoe Littlepage, as saying.

The drug company is just contesting the upheld punitive damages award.

It is unclear when the Supreme Court arguments will be heard.

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