Suit filed over HRT drugs blamed for breast cancer

Marilyn Tennissen Nov. 19, 2007, 5:55am

A Jasper County woman has filed a federal lawsuit against Pfizer and Wyeth, claiming the hormone therapy drugs manufactured by the pharmaceutical companies caused her breast cancer.

Scharlotte Fitzgerald says she began taking hormone replacement drugs in 1994. In 2001 she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Fitzgerald and her husband Larry filed a personal injury suit against the drug companies in the Beaumont Division of the Eastern District of Texas on Nov. 2. They are seeking in excess of $75,000 in damages.

"This lawsuit asserts claims for negligence; strict product liability for failure to warn, strict product liability for design defect; and breach of implied warranty against the defendants responsible for the design, manufacture, production, testing, study, inspection, mixture, labeling, marketing, advertising, sales, promotion and/or distribution of those hormone therapy products that caused her breast cancer," the plaintiffs' original complaint states.

The plaintiffs' claim that the defendants had an obligation to provide warnings about risks and side effects of their hormone therapy drugs as soon as it was aware of them. The suit alleges that the drug companies failed to disclose "an increased incidence and risk of strokes, blood clots, heart attacks, breast cancers and ovarian cancer from these drugs."

Plaintiffs also assert that the defendants made claims regarding health benefits of the drugs and should have known "that these claims were false and misleading."

The defendants also gave a false impression that adequate pre-marketing clinical testing and research and post-marketing surveillance had been done, the plaintiffs claim.

"Plaintiff would not have ingested the hormone therapy drugs … or would have discontinued their use, or would have used safer alternative methods, had defendants disclosed the true health consequences, risks, and adverse effects, including the increased incidence and risk of breast cancer and other illnesses, caused by their hormone drugs," the complaint states.

In the first claim against defendants, the plaintiff alleges that the companies were negligent by failing to exercise reasonable care in designing, manufacturing, testing and distributing the hormone replacement drugs.

"Defendants knew or should have known that their hormone therapy drugs caused unreasonable harm and dangerous side effects that many users would be unable to remedy by any means," the petition states. "Despite this, defendants continued to promote and market their hormone therapy drugs for use by consumers, including plaintiff, when safer and more effective methods of countering the negative health effects of menopause were available."

The petition also includes claims for strict liability through failure to warn and design defect.

"These hormone therapy drugs were each dangerous to an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer who purchased them," the suit says. "They were more dangerous than plaintiff contemplated. The risk of each of these hormone therapy drugs outweighs its utility."

The companies also breached implied warranty, the suit said, because they sold the drugs as being of "merchantable quality and safe and fit for their intended use."

Scharlotte Fitzgerald is seeking damages to exceed $75,000, attorney fees, costs of suit and other relief that the court may deem just and proper.

Her husband, Larry Fitzgerald is also seeking monetary damages for his loss of spousal services, society and companionship.

Christopher Kirchmer of the Provost Umphrey Law Firm LLP in Beaumont is representing the plaintiffs.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield.

Case No. 1:07-CV-832-TH

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