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Jury fines Wyeth in hormone lawsuit

RENO - A jury levied a $134.5 million judgment against pharmaceutical giant Wyeth in a lawsuit filed by three Nevada women who claimed the company's hormone replacement drugs caused their breast cancer.

It was the largest award to date against the Madison, N.J., company, which faces about 5,300 similar suits across the country.

"These are very large numbers for compensatory damages," said Howard Erichson, a law professor at Seton Hall University. "It has to be troubling for Wyeth because dollar figures like these suggest the jury entirely accepted the plaintiff's version of the story and was not kindly disposed to Wyeth at all."

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

The Reno panel deliberated for two days before announcing its verdict late Wednesday. The same five-man, two-woman jury will return to the courtroom today to consider punitive damages against the drug maker.

Wyeth spokesman Doug Petkus said yesterday that the company would have no comment because the case was not finished. Washoe District Judge Robert Perry issued a gag order early in the proceedings.

But in an e-mail to the Associated Press, Petkus said 20 similar cases have gone to trial or been otherwise resolved. Of those, he said three resulted in favor of the company, two plaintiff verdicts were set aside by the courts, and three cases were dismissed on summary judgment.

Twelve other cases were voluntarily dismissed by plaintiffs before trial, he said.

During the Reno trial, Wyeth lawyers argued that the drugs are safe and approved by the Food and Drug Administration. They also said information about possible risks is included with every prescription and provided to the women's doctors.

They also argued that the women had other risk factors, making it impossible to link their cancer with the hormone replacement drugs.

All three women were awarded $7.5 million in past damages. Jurors also awarded $36 million each to two women for future damages, and $40 million to another.

After the verdict was announced, the women hugged their attorneys and cried, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported.

Geoffrey White, a lawyer for the women, also deferred comment yesterday until after the punitive phase. He said his firm represents 102 other women in Nevada pursuing cases against Wyeth.

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