Beaumont firm represents breast cancer survivor in Arkansas HRT suit

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Nov. 7, 2007, 8:24am

TEXARKANA – Lawyers from Beaumont have filed suit in Arkansas on behalf of a woman who claims her hormone replacement therapy caused her breast cancer.

Plaintiffs Betty Wynn and her husband Harold are represented by Beaumont attorneys from the Provost Umphrey Law Firm who filed a product liability suit against Pfizer and Wyeth on Nov. 2 in the Texarkana Division of the Western District of Arkansas.

According to Wynn's suit, she began taking hormone therapy (HRT) drugs in 1998, but stopped taking the prescriptions in 2002 after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Wynn believes her breast cancer was caused by the doctor-prescribed HRT medications.

The lawsuit claims that HRT manufacturers, Pfizer and Wyeth, failed to provide adequate warnings about the increased risk of strokes, blood clots, heart attacks and breast and ovarian cancers. The plaintiffs allege the pharmaceutical companies instead attempted to conceal the risks.

In addition, the suit claims the defendants were negligent in development, manufacturing and marketing the drugs as well as failures in pre-clinical testing and post-marketing surveillance.

Attorneys Christopher Kirchmer and Bryan Blevins Jr. of the Beaumont Provost Umphrey Law Firm are representing the Wynns, along with Thomas McGowan of Provost Umphrey in Little Rock. Michael Williams and Leslie O'Leary of the Oregon law firm of Williams, Love, O'Leary and Powers P.C. are also involved in the Wynn's representation.

The Wynn's recently filed Arkansas suit, Case No.: 4:07cv04105, will likely become part of a larger multi-district litigation pending in Arkansas' Eastern District Federal Court.

The HRT litigation has expanded to other manufacturers such as Pfizer, Barr Pharmaceuticals, and Bristol-Myers Squibb with a list of drugs at issue that includes Prempro, Premarin, Premphase, Estrace and Provera.

In March 2003, a transfer order assigned all HRT cases to Judge William R. Wilson Jr.'s Eastern District of Arkansas court. Subsequent HRT related cases filed in other federal courts are reviewed by a judicial panel on multidistrict litigation and if found related, transferred to the Eastern District court as "tag along" cases.

In 2005, the Arkansas litigation consisted of around 4,400 cases. Once pretrial proceedings are complete, the conditionally transferred cases will be sent back to their original courts.

The Arkansas federal judge will hold a status conference on the MDL on Nov. 16 and an HRT trial is scheduled to begin on Dec. 4 in Little Rock, Ark.

HRT lawsuits began to appear following a 2002 National Institutes of Health clinical trial report that questioned the benefits of the drugs. The NIH Women's Health Initiative found "hormone replacement therapy actually posed more health risks than benefits from women in clinical trial."

The drugs remain FDA-approved for treatment of menopause and postmenopausal osteoporosis after changes were made on product labels. But a flurry of litigation followed once the results of the clinical trial were published.

The first suit against Wyeth's HRT drug Prempro went to trial in September 2006 in an Arkansas federal court. During the trial, Wyeth's attorneys explained that in 1991, Wyeth began warning doctors of the increase risk of cancers and need for follow-ups with HRT patients. The Arkansas jury found Wyeth did adequately warn patients and physicians of the increased risk of cancer and therefore, was not negligent.

The second trial against Wyeth's HRT drug occurred in October 2006 in a Pennsylvania state court and resulted in a mistrial. In a February 2007 retrial, a jury awarded $3 million in compensatory damages to the plaintiff. A judge had already ruled out the possibility of awarding punitive damages. On appeal, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas granted Wyeth's motion for post-trial relief and entered a judgment not with standing the verdict in favor of Wyeth.

In another Pennsylvania trial, a state appeals court overturned a jury verdict of $1.5 million compensatory damages to a plaintiff.

Wyeth was also successful in several other cases in early 2007, but that successful defense did not carry into October.

With a substantial award of $134 million, a Nevada jury found Wyeth liable for negligence, product defect and causation. The jury awarded $35 million in compensatory damages and $99 million in punitive damages to three plaintiffs.

"This flawed verdict is the result of a trial riddled with errors," says Lawrence V. Stein, Wyeth's Senior Vice President and General Counsel. Wyeth will appeal the decision. (Scofield, Rowatt and Forrester v. Wyeth)

Contrasting the recent Nevada verdict, a state court judge in a Minnesota HRT lawsuit found that the plaintiff's claim of HRT drug- induced breast cancer was not backed by scientific evidence. The court stated, "The studies provide inconsistent results about the degree to which risk is increased." Wyeth's motion for summary judgment was granted.

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