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Drug maker hit with $38 million verdict in product liability suit

In our post last week we discussed the legal responsibility of drug manufacturers to provide consumers and doctors with adequate warnings of side effects. The consequences of an insufficient warning made headlines recently, when a jury awarded $38 million to a 12-year-old girl and her family who claimed an epilepsy medication caused the girl's birth defects.

The medication, Depakote, was manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, which is currently facing more than 800 lawsuits alleging that Abbott failed to warn of the potential for the drug to cause birth defects. The girl's mother in this case took the drug during pregnancy and the girl was born with spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spinal column does not form completely around the spinal cord. Children born with severe spina bifida can suffer from paralysis and mental disability.

The jury awarded the family $15 million in compensatory damages and $23 million in punitive damages. The jury awarded the punitive damages after finding that the company showed conscious disregard of the safety risks of the drug. The family claimed Depakote was defectively designed and that Abbott failed to warn of the risks. Abbott argued that the family and their physician were aware of the risks and that the mother made an informed choice to take the drug.

Depakote, which is prescribed to treat bipolar mania and migraine headaches in addition to epilepsy, has generated billions of dollars in revenue for Abbot. In 2007, the year before it lost patent protection, it generated $1.6 billion. But a 2010 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found Depakote was associated with several types of birth defects, including spina bifida. After a separate investigation, state and federal regulators ordered Abbott pay $1.5 billion in fines for improper marketing of the drug.

When families seek to be compensated for injuries from defective drugs, they are up against some very powerful and rich companies. It's important for these families to have the help of attorneys who know how to fight for their clients' rights against these formidable opponents.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Jury: Abbott Must Pay $23M in Punitive Damages Over Depakote," Jef Feeley & Tim Bross, May 28, 2015

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