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PHILADELPHIA (Mealey's) - The Pennsylvania Superior Court on Aug. 30 reversed summary judgment rulings in 14 cases brought by women claiming that their use of Prempro and other hormone replacement therapies caused them to develop breast cancer after finding that a Common Pleas Court judge erred in finding that the plaintiffs' claims were time-barred on the ground that the discovery rule was inapplicable (Coleman v. Wyeth Pharms., 2010 PA Super 158 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2010) enhanced for lexis.com customers; 2010 PA Super 158 FREE basic opinion).
A panel comprising Superior Court Judges Correale Stevens, Mary Jane Bowes and James J. Fitzgerald III concluded that a jury should determine whether the plaintiffs knew that their use of the drugs was associated with their development of the disease at the time of their diagnosis or if they did not know of a possible relationship between hormone replacement therapy and the development of breast cancer until the publication of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study in July 2002. The panel also found that Philadelphia County Common Pleas Court Judge Allan Tereshko erred in failing to view the record in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs when entering his ruling against Elizabeth and Joe Coleman and that the judge erred in finding that the remaining plaintiffs' response to a question on their plaintiff fact sheets constituted a judicial admission that they were aware of a relationship between hormone replacement therapy and the risk of breast cancer at the time of their diagnosis.
Elizabeth Coleman was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2000, but she and her husband did not file suit against Wyeth, the maker of Premarin and Prempro, until June 2004. The remaining 13 women used a variety of hormone replacement therapies and were diagnosed with the disease between 1998 and 2002. Following some discovery in Coleman's case, Wyeth moved for summary judgment on Sept. 24, 2007, arguing that the Colemans' claims were barred by Pennsylvania's two-year statute of limitations because the drugs' warnings and medical literature documented an association between the use of hormone replacement therapy and the risk of breast cancer prior to her diagnosis. The manufacturer asserted that the availability of this information should have put Coleman on notice that her injury was related to her use of the drugs. Judge Tereshko granted the motion and applied his reasoning to the remaining 13 cases. Judge Tereshko also found that the plaintiffs' responses to a question on their plaintiff fact sheets concerning their knowledge of a risk of breast cancer associated with the use of hormone replacement therapy constituted a judicial admission that they were aware of a possible relationship between the drugs and the disease.
The plaintiffs appealed, and their cases were consolidated. The plaintiffs asserted that Judge Tereshko erred by not allowing a jury to decide whether the discovery rule applied in their cases. After reviewing the facts of the Coleman case, the panel concluded that the plaintiff received conflicting information about the relationship between the risk of breast cancer and the use of hormone replacement therapy.
"On the basis of the record before us, a jury could reasonably believe that Ms. Coleman had no reason to suspect that there was a causal link between her breast cancer and her ingestion of HRT medications until the WHI study was published and triggered inquiry," Judge Bowes wrote for the panel. "The issue of her reasonable diligence is a factual one for the jury."
The panel remanded the cases to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.
[Editor's Note: Full coverage will be in the September issue of Mealey's Litigation Report: Hormone Replacement Therapy. In the meantime, the opinion is available at www.mealeysonline.com or by calling the Customer Support Department at 1-800-833-9844. Document #76-100910-005Z. For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.]
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