Pennsylvania trial court recently overturned a $3 million jury verdict in Philadelphia's first hormone replacement therapy trial. Nelson v. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Inc., No. 01670 (Pa. Ct. Comm. Pl. Dec. 5, 2007).
In the case, the plaintiff had allegedly taken Wyeth’s hormone replacement therapy drug, Prempro, for five years before being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. Plaintiff claimed her use of Prempro caused her cancer, thereby requiring her to endure cancer treatment that included chemotherapy and ultimately a double mastectomy. After the first trial resulted in a mistrial, a second jury found Wyeth liable based upon its failure to provide adequate warning labels about breast-cancer risks of Prempro, awarding the plaintiff $3 million in compensatory damages.
The trial court judge allowed Wyeth's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and vacated the jury verdict on the basis that the plaintiff had failed to prove causation because she could not prove that expanded warnings would have affected her doctor's decision to prescribe her the hormone replacement medication. In doing so, the court noted that “a drug manufacturer only has a duty to inform the physician, not the patient, about any potential dangers, since the physician takes that into account along with other medical history when prescribing the drug.” Because Wyeth openly disclosed the risks of cancer to and worked with the medical community to educate people about the drug, and the plaintiff's doctor relied upon such information rather than product labeling in making her recommendations, the court found that the plaintiff had failed to prove that changes in labeling would have changed her doctor's advice. As a result, plaintiff could not prove that the allegedly inadequate labeling had caused her injuries.
Nelson may serve as an important precedent for Wyeth because it is one of the first hormone replacement therapy cases to go forward from the Philadelphia Complex Litigation Center, where reportedly hundreds of hormone replacement therapy cases are currently pending. Overall, reports estimate that more than 5,000 hormone replacement therapy lawsuits have been filed against Wyeth.