updated 4/27/2004 8:54:46 PM ET 2004-04-28T00:54:46

A jury awarded $1 billion Tuesday to the family of a woman who once took the Wyeth-made diet drug Pondimin, part of the now-banned weight-loss combination fen-phen.

The New Jersey-based drug company immediately said it would appeal the jury’s huge award, which included $900 million in punitive damages.

Cynthia Cappel-Coffey, 41, died last year after being diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension, which her attorneys blamed on Pondimin, the brand name of fenfluramine.

She took the drug for five months in 1997, according to her attorneys. Pondimin was pulled from the market in September 1997 because of side effects. Cappel-Coffey was diagnosed with hypertension in 2002 and died last year.

The family’s attorney, John O’Quinn, said Wyeth was negligent and “acted with malice in marketing of this drug by putting its making of money ahead of human life and safety.”

Wyeth contended that it provided adequate warnings about the risk of primary pulmonary hypertension associated with Pondimin and had complied with federal regulations.

“Ms. Cappel-Coffey, who was morbidly obese, a strong candidate for using diet drugs and had a family history of cardiovascular disease prior to taking diet drugs, did not develop PPH symptoms until more than four years after she stopped using Pondimin,” Wyeth attorney Bill Sims said.

Sims also said the $900 million in punitive damages exceeded a Texas cap on such awards.

American Home Products Corp., which later changed its name to Wyeth, made Pondimin, the fenfluramine half of fen-phen, and Redux, a chemical cousin. About 6 million people took the drugs before they were pulled from the market. Phentermine, the other drug in the combination, was not implicated in health problems.

Sims said the Jefferson County jury did not hear evidence that Cappel-Coffey was taking four other prescription drugs after she discontinued using Pondimin. The judge ruled against such testimony. Sims said the other drugs also included warnings of the risk of PPH.

About 78,000 people have opted out of a $3.75 billion trust fund the company set up for injured fen-phen patients, and Wyeth has set aside $16.6 billion to cover payouts from the trust, verdicts, settlements and legal costs.

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