U.S. SC puts hormone therapy suits in state court

Jessica M. Karmasek Oct. 12, 2010, 3:26pm

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by several drug makers, including Pfizer Inc., to have three lawsuits alleging a link between hormone-therapy medications and breast cancer moved to federal court.

The lawsuits, which were filed in 2008, can now proceed in Minnesota state court, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The plaintiffs -- more than 100 women -- alleged the drug companies purposely hid a link between the drugs, which are used to treat symptoms of menopause, and an increased risk of breast cancer.

Hormone replacement therapy involves taking either estrogen alone or estrogen in combination with progesterone or progestin, which is a synthetic hormone with effects similar to those of progesterone.

According to the National Cancer Institute's website, doctors may recommend menopausal hormones to counter some of the problems often associated with the onset of menopause -- including hot flashes, night sweats, sleeplessness -- or to prevent some long-term conditions that are more common in postmenopausal women, such as osteoporosis.

The drug companies who appealed to the U.S. Court included Pfizer's Wyeth and Pharmacia & Upjohn units, and subsidiaries of Novartis AG, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and Abbott Laboratories.

The drug makers wanted to have the cases moved and consolidated with other similar suits.

According to the Journal, drug makers prefer to have product-liability cases in federal court, believing the system provides "better legal safeguards for corporate defendants."

The companies argued that lawyers for the plaintiffs structured the lawsuits "fraudulently" to keep any claims from being argued in federal court.

In December 2008, a federal judge agreed. The judge noted the women took different drugs in different dosages and therefore suffered varying injuries.

But a U.S. appeals court overturned the judge's ruling this year, siding with the plaintiffs. The court ruled the suits could proceed in the Minnesota courts.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday let the ruling stand without comment, the Journal reported.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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