Posted on Monday, September 24th, 2012 at 6:19 am
In the recent case of Kendall vs Wyeth, Inc., the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld a jury award imposing punitive damages of $28 million against defendants Wyeth, Inc. and Upjohn. This award resulted from a lawsuit brought by plaintiff Donna Kendall against Wyeth and Upjohn as a result of getting breast cancer after taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs manufactured by Wyeth and Upjohn. In her lawsuit, Donna Kendall alleged that the defendants were negligent in failing to warn her prescribing physicians of the significant risk of breast cancer arising from the ingestion of certain hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs manufactured by the defendants.
Following a trial, the jury awarded Donna Kendall $6.3 million in damages to compensate her for her injuries and $28 million in punitive damages. Pennsylvania law allows an award of punitive damages to punish defendants when their conduct has been legally determined to be “outrageous”.
Although, the trial court initially held that the award of $28 million in punitive damages was excessive and reduced this award to $1 million, on appeal the Pennsylvania Superior Court disagreed reinstating the $28 million award.
According to the summary of this case reported in the Pennsylvania Law Weekly, Upjohn failed to conduct any studies to explore the link between HRT drugs and breast cancer and continued to promote such drugs in violation of FDA guidelines. Furthermore, the summary notes that per the court the record indicated that Wyeth’s conduct was ‘reprehensible’ and fully merited the imposition of punitive damages.
In upholding the jury’s award of $28 million in punitive damages, the court noted that the award, “while large, correlated with the enormity of the defendants wrong, clear liability, and the devastating impact on the plaintiff.” According to the summary, the court noted that the evidence strongly suggested that Appellants (Wyeth and Upjohn) elevated profits above public health and women’s health and chose not to conduct adequate studies and willfully ignored or downplayed evidence that suggested a link between HRT drugs and breast cancer.
While such large punitive damage awards are indeed rare, this case does illustrate the ability of an individual to hold large corporations responsible for their actions.