On the eve of starting the punitive phase of a civil trial that already involved a jury award of $72.6 million, Pfizer Inc., settled a case with three women who developed breast cancer after taking one of the company's menopause drugs.

The women live or lived in Pennsylvania and were among thousands who sued Pfizer or companies it acquired.

The trial in Philadelphia's Common Pleas Court had two phases.

In the compensatory phase, the jury decided Susan Elfont, who used to live in Northeast Philadelphia but now lives in California, Bernadette Kalenkoski and Judy Mulderig should get a combined $72.6 million. In the second phase, the same jury would have decided whether the company's warnings about the drug were adequate and whether the company was liable.

It's possible that if the jury found the drugmaker had adequate warnings and was not liable, the compensatory award would be reduced. If the jury went the other way, the cost to Pfizer could have been greater.

That uncertainty can lead to settlements. The women could have settled for less than $72.6 million to gain certainty, knowing Pfizer has millions of dollars set aside to fight suits.

Neither side would discuss the agreed amount in this case.

"There was a confidential resolution satisfactory to all parties," said the plaintiffs' attorney, Tobi Millrood, a partner in the Conshohocken-based law firm of Pogust, Braslow & Millrood L.L.C. He was joined in the case by Matt Leckman, also of Pogust, and Ted Meadows, of the Alabama law firm of Beasley, Allen.

Pfizer spokesman Chris Loder said, "The parties have entered into a mutually agreeable resolution under confidential terms that will bring an end to this case, and will jointly ask the court to set aside the recent decision reached by the jury in this matter. In keeping with Pfizer's long-standing policy, we have no further comment on the agreement."

Pfizer inherited the drug Prempro and other hormone therapy drugs when it bought Pharmacia (including Upjohn) in 2003 and Wyeth in 2009.

Contact staff writer David Sell at dsell@phillynews.com or 215-854-4506. Read his blog at www.philly.com/phillypharma and on Twitter @phillypharma.