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U.S. Supreme Court Clears way for Breast Cancer Victim to Seek Punitive Damages in Prempro Case

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An Arkansas woman who said hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs caused her breast cancer won the right to sue a major drug company for punitive damages. The ruling could affect more than 6,000 women across America who have filed similar lawsuits.

On June 21, 2010, the United States Supreme Court upheld a Little Rock Federal Court’s 2008 ruling that Donna Scroggin should be awarded $2.7 million in her lawsuit against the drug companies Upjohn and Wyeth, now owned by Pfizer. The decision also paves the way for Scroggins to seek punitive damages, which the lower court has set at $27.1 million.

Pfizer sought an appeal for a retrial on the dollar amount set for the punitive damages, but the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the drug company’s argument. Pfizer bought Wyeth last year for $68 billion.

Scroggins is one of an estimated six million women to have taken the hormone replacement drug, Prempro. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 after using the drug for 11 years. Prempro is prescribed to combat menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and mood swings.

In 2002, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a study that linked Prempro and similar HRT drugs with an increase risk for breast cancer. The results were so alarming that NIH canceled the study, citing risk to the study's participants. The authors of the study suggested that many of the women who used Prempro and other HRT containing estrogen and progestin combinations should quit and talk to their doctors about alternatives.

Wyeth has gotten into legal trouble because it failed to warn women that there were major risks associated with the drug, such as breast cancer, stroke, heart disease and blood clots.

The 2002 NIH study found that that women who were given Prempro were 26 percent more likely to develop breast cancer compared to those in a placebo group.

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