Hormone Therapy Update

Hormone therapy has been in use as a purported treatment for women’s menopausal symptoms and the prevention of osteoporosis for almost three decades. Throughout the United States, in both State and federal courts, there are currently about 7,900 claims pending by women who have allegedly been injured by combination hormone therapy. The thrust of these lawsuits, which are being prosecuted against Wyeth and other makers of synthetic hormones, is that combination hormone therapy (horse estrogen plus synthetic progestin) can cause breast cancer, that Wyeth and the other drug makers have known about this risk for decades, and that the drug makers failed to warn physicians or consumers until they were forced to do so in July 2002. Publication of the results of a government-run study entitled the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) in July 2002 revealed that women taking combination therapy, including Wyeth’s Prempro, are at in increased risk for invasive breast cancer, heart attack, stroke, pulmonary emboli, and deep vein thrombosis. The lawsuits also allege that Wyeth and the other drug makers illegally promoted the drugs for unapproved indications, including the prevention of cardiovascular disease, and that the companies over-promoted the benefits of the drugs while attempting to downplay their risks.

The year 2007 and the early months of 2008 have brought several notable victories for the plaintiffs in hormone therapy litigation. In 2007, three separate trials that took place in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Mass Tort Program In re Hormone Therapy Litigation resulted in plaintiff’s jury verdicts. First, in Nelson v. Wyeth, where the plaintiff suffered breast cancer after six and a half years of Prempro use, the jury awarded compensatory damages in the amount of $3 million. Although the judge granted Wyeth’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, the case is currently pending on appeal for a reinstatement of the verdict. Second, in Daniel v. Wyeth, where the plaintiff contracted breast cancer after only a year and a half of using Prempro, the jury awarded compensatory damages in the amount of $1.5 million and an undisclosed amount of punitive damages. However, the court granted a new trial, and the case is currently pending on appeal. Finally, in Simon v. Wyeth, where the plaintiff took combination hormone therapy for approximately ten years, the jury awarded compensatory damages of $1.5 million. The Simon case, like the other two, is on appeal following the trial court’s overturning of the verdict.

Plaintiffs are winning in other parts of the country as well. For instance, in late 2007, three individual cases were consolidate for one trial in Reno, Nevada: Scofield v. Wyeth, Rowatt v. Wyeth, and Forrestor v. Wyeth. Following trial, the jury awarded the plaintiffs a total of $35 million in compensatory damages and $99 million in punitive damages. In March 2008, following a trial in Scroggin v. Wyeth in Little Rock, Arkansas, the jury awarded the plaintiff $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $27 million in punitive damages.

While the battle continues in the thousands of cases that remain, plaintiffs certainly appear to be picking up steam.