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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Wyeth Gets New Trial |in Breast Cancer Case

(CN) - Wyeth Pharmaceuticals will get a new trial on punitive damages in the case of an Arkansas woman who got breast cancer after taking hormone-replacement therapy drugs, the 8th Circuit ruled.

In the late 1980s, Donna Scroggin began taking Upjohn Co.'s estrogen drug, Ogen, and Provera, a progestin drug, for her menopause symptoms. Her doctor switched her to Wyeth's Premarin and Prempro, an estrogen-progestin combination drug.

She was diagnosed with cancer in both breasts in 2000 and had to undergo a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.

Scroggin sued Wyeth and Upjohn, claiming they failed to warn her of the risks of developing breast cancer from their estrogen and progestin drugs.

The trial was divided into two parts: liability and punitive damages. The jury found Wyeth and Upjohn liable and awarded Scroggin $2.75 million in compensatory damages and $27 million in punitive damages.

U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson overturned the punitive damages award in July 2008, saying testimony from Scroggin's expert witness, a former Food and Drug Administration official, "should have been excluded" at trial.

The St. Louis-based appeals court upheld the compensatory damages award and agreed that Upjohn is not liable for punitive damages.

But the three-judge panel also granted Wyeth a new trial on punitive damages.

"Scroggin presented sufficient evidence to submit the question of punitive damages to the jury, even without (the expert's) testimony," Judge Wollman wrote.

The court noted that Judge Wilson had thoroughly examined the evidence on a piece-by-piece basis, finding that each piece failed to clearly show reckless indifference.

"[T]his individualized treatment of the evidence may inadvertently have obscured the full scope of Wyeth's conduct that the evidence collectively portrayed," Wollman said.

The judge added: "A jury could reasonably construe Wyeth's documents as repeated efforts over many years to undermine information and studies that attempted to show a breast cancer link."

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