Wyeth Smacked by Reno Jury

As many Northern Nevadans are aware, a Reno jury recently handed down a major verdict against drug giant, Wyeth.

This comes from David Parker writing for the Reno Gazette Journal:

Wyeth plaintiffs Arlene Rowart, from left, of Incline Village, Jeraldine Scofield of Fallon and Pamela Forrester of Yerington listen shortly after the jury ruled in their favor in the trial against the pharmaceutical maker.

Three Nevada women, including one from Fallon, were awarded $99 million by Reno jurors in punitive damages Monday.

The women had claimed hormone replacement drugs distributed by pharmaceutical giant Wyeth caused their breast cancer.

An attorney for Wyeth called the award "an aberration" and said it would be appealed.

The Washoe County District Court jury initially issued a $134.5 million judgment against Wyeth last week, but Judge Robert Perry slashed that to $35 million after it became clear some of the jurors were under the mistaken belief the award was to include punitive damages intended to punish the company.

After lawyers for both sides gave closing arguments again Monday, the judge instructed the five-man, two-women jury to move to the punitive stage of the trial to consider whether the company's actions were so "reprehensible" that additional damages were warranted to punish it and discourage such behavior in the future.

"This verdict is an extreme aberration," said Heidi Hubbard, a partner in the law firm representing Wyeth. "It is inconsistent with every other hormone therapy case to be tried to date and it is inconsistent with the evidence."

The judgment for Jeraldine Scofield, 74, of Fallon; Arlene Rowatt, 67, of Incline Village; and Pamela Forrester, 65, of Yerington is by far the largest award to date against the Madison, N.J.-based company, which faces about 5,300 similar lawsuits across the country in state and federal courts.

All involve the drugs Premarin, an estrogen replacement, and Prempro, a combination of estrogen and progestin, prescribed for women to ease symptoms of menopause.

The jurors returned at 1 p.m. Monday, two hours after they began deliberations following an impassioned plea by one of the women's lawyers to return a large enough judgment to "get the attention and hold responsible" a company with a net worth of $14.6 billion.

"You already found Wyeth acted with fraud and malice. You found they did wrong. Now you can punish them for what they did to these women," Zoe Littlepage told the jurors.

"We're talking about a company that decided year after year to put their profits and money over the safety of their patients who got breast cancer," she said.

Dan Webb, Wyeth's lead attorney, urged the jury to re-examine the evidence thoroughly and resist the temptation to reissue the original $100 million judgment.

"You'll decide whether you've already punished Wyeth enough," Webb said. "For Ms. Littlepage to suggest you have not captured Wyeth's attention with your verdict is just wrong.

"My client has received the message."

Geraldine Scofield, 75, of Fallon said she was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago and is "somewhat optimistic" about her health.

Scofield, whose mother is 93, and who has no breast cancer in her family, remains active.

A mother and grandmother, she loves to quilt and meets weekly with a quilters group here.

When Scofield, who is a widow, was asked why she sued Wyeth, she answered, "because I'm mad and I'm upset that I have to go through the rest of my life worrying about having breast cancer."