January 3, 2012

Pennsylvania appellate court rules on two punitive damages awards arising from the same conduct; reinstates a $28 million award in one case (resulting in a 4.4 to 1 ratio) and reduces a $75 million award in the other (resulting in a 2 to 1 ratio)

We've previously reported on the series of punitive damages awards against Wyeth for injuries allegedly caused by its hormone replacement drug Prempro.

The appeals in two of those cases were decided today by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.  In one of the cases, Kendall v. Wyeth, a Philadelphia jury awarded $28 million in punitive damages, which the trial court reduced to $1 million.  In today's opinion, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reinstated the original award, concluding that a 4.44 to 1 ratio was not excessive in light of evidence that the defendants "elevated profits above public health."

Wyeth argued that a 1 to 1 ratio was the constitutional maximum, citing State Farm's statement that “When compensatory damages are substantial, then a lesser ratio, perhaps only equal to compensatory -
damages, can reach the outermost limit of the due process guarantee.”  The court rejected that argument, observing that in State Farm, when the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the Utah Supreme Court, the Utah Supreme Court disregarded the suggestion of a 1 to 1 ratio and permitted a 9 to 1 ratio.  (Note that, in California, at least one division of our Court of Appeal has refused to give any weight to the Utah Supreme Court's opinion on remand in State Farm; see Walker v. Farmer Ins. Exchange.)

In a companion case involving another Prempro punitive damages award against Wyeth, Barton v. Wyeth, the same appellate court ordered a reduction of a $75 million punitive damages award to $7.4 million, for a ratio of 2 to 1.  That result is actually a victory for the plaintiff, because the trial court had remitted the award to $5.6 million, for a ratio of only 1.5 to 1.  In a footnote at the end of the opinion, the court reconciles the seeming inconsistency in its two opinions.  The footnote says that the award in Kendall warranted a higher ratio because the plaintiff in that case suffered devastating physical and emotional injuries.

Hat tip: How Appealing's Howard Bashman (who argued the Kendall case for the successful plaintiffs).

Related posts:

Trial Judge Reduces $75M Punitive Damages Award to $5.6M in Pfizer Litigation

More Punitive Damages Against Pfizer in Prempro Litigation: Philadelphia Jury Awards $28 million

A Mixed Bag For Pfizer On Prempro Punitive Damages

Jury Awards Undisclosed Amount of Punitive Damages Against Pfizer in Prempro Litigation

Arkansas District Court Vacates $27 Million Punitive Damages Award Against Wyeth and UpJohn

Nevada Judge Cuts $99 Million Punitive Damages Award Against Wyeth