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Pfizer to pay $1.8 million in Prempro punitive damages

Pfizer Inc. must pay about $1.8 million in punitive damages to a Connecticut woman who developed breast cancer after taking the company’s Prempro menopause drug, a judge concluded.

U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton’s Aug. 5 ruling brings the amount Pfizer must pay Margaret Fraser over her claims the hormone-replacement medicine caused her cancer to $5.76 million. A jury in New Haven, Conn., awarded Fraser and her husband $4 million in compensatory damages in April 2012 after finding the world’s largest drugmaker liable for her injuries.

“While we had asked the court to award $8 million in punitive damages, we’re pleased the judge found significant punitive damages were appropriate,” Neal Moskow, one of Fraser’s lawyers, said in a telephone interview.

The ruling comes as New York-based Pfizer is pushing to wrap up litigation over its menopause drugs that has hampered the drugmaker for a decade. The company has settled about 95 percent of the more than 10,000 lawsuits filed over the medicines and set aside about $1.6 billion to cover those accords, Pfizer officials said in a May filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Steve Danehy, a Pfizer spokesman, didn’t immediately return a call or an email seeking comment on the judge’s ruling.

Drugs combined

More than 6 million women took Prempro and related menopause drugs to treat symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings before a 2002 study highlighted their links to cancer. Pfizer’s Wyeth unit’s sales of the medicines, which are still on the market, topped $2 billion before the release of the Women’s Health Initiative, a National Institutes of Health-sponsored study.

Until 1995, many menopausal women combined Premarin, Wyeth’s estrogen-based drug, with progestin-laden Provera, made by Pfizer’s Upjohn unit, to relieve their symptoms. Wyeth combined the two hormones in its Prempro pill.

Pfizer’s Wyeth and Upjohn units faced about 20 trials over the menopause drugs since 2006 and were ordered to pay damages in about half of them. The drugmaker later got some of those verdicts thrown after trial or on appeal. Pfizer also had some cases dismissed prior to trial and settled others.

Punitive award

Jurors in Fraser’s case found Wyeth officials failed to properly warn the retired public-school principal about Prempro’s risks, Moskow said. The panel also concluded Pfizer’s mishandling of the drug warranted a punitive award.

Moskow said Fraser was entitled to seek a punitive award amounting to double her compensatory award. Pfizer’s lawyers countered in court filings that Fraser didn’t deserve any punishment damages, but if the judge disagreed, she should only receive an award equivalent to her legal fees and costs.

Arterton, based in New Haven, concluded Pfizer should pay a punitive award that provided $1.3 million in legal fees for Fraser’s attorneys along with $436,510 in costs.

Pfizer reported second-quarter profit last month that beat analysts’ estimates as the drugmaker moved toward a division of businesses that may split the company in half.

The case is Fraser v. Wyeth Inc., 3:04-cv-01373, U.S. District Court, District of Connecticut (New Haven).


With assistance from Drew Armstrong in New York