The jury deliberated for six days before deciding that New Jersey-based Wyeth Laboratories, the maker of the drug, was responsible for the death of Cynthia Cappel Coffey from primary pulmonary hypertension in January 2003.
The bulk of the award — $900 million — was for punitive damages awarded because the jury found that Wyeth was not only negligent but had acted with malice, said Houston lawyer John O’Quinn, who represented the Coffey family.
The jury awarded the family $113 million in actual damages. “My sense is they (drug companies) will want to settle. They know now that I’ve got this verdict, and they know I’ll try the others. I’m too big a risk to them. No. 1, the evidence is overwhelming, and No. 2, they know what I can do with it.”
According to the Bloomberg business news service, Wyeth has set aside $16.6 billion to resolve lawsuits arising from damages caused by the fen-phen diet combinations. The verdict was the company’s seventh loss in court on the issue. It has prevailed in two lawsuits since fen-phen litigation began in earnest in 1999.
For John O’Quinn, lawyer for the family, it’s the latest in a long line of significant victories. O’Quinn, who earned a reputation as the “king” of silicon breast implant litigation, has about 3,000 of those suits. He predicts fen-phen litigation will dwarf the breast implant suits.
John O’Quinn’s other large settlements and jury awards include:
• O’Quinn was one of the lawyers for the state of Texas in the $17.3 billion tobacco settlement in 1998. Texas sued the tobacco industry in March 1996 for taxpayer reimbursement for Medicaid funds spent to treat smoking-related illnesses.
• O’Quinn said he has grossed $3 billion in awards and settlements in 3,000 breast implant cases from 1992 to 2000.
• In 1999, Wal-Mart settled for an undisclosed amount in a breach of contract case after a jury awarded $625 million.
• A 1988 case against Tenneco resulted in a $990 million jury award in a breach of contract case.
• A benzene exposure case in 1984 resulted in a $100 million verdict.
“There are a lot of claims, a lot of cases, and the liability is so compelling,” O’Quinn said, adding that he expected the size of Tuesday’s award to perhaps prompt a rash of settlement offers.