Abbott Laboratories was recently ordered to pay $23 million in punitive damages to a child whose family claimed Abbott’s drug Depakote caused the Minnesota girl’s birth defects. It is the first time that a verdict has been found against the drug company for that medication.

A St. Louis, Missouri, state-court jury awarded the additional, punitive damages after deciding that Maddison Schmidt’s family deserved $15 million in compensatory damages for her birth defects. The 12-year-old has spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spinal cord and backbone fail to form or close properly. Her mother took Depakote during pregnancy.

Abbott now faces more than 800 lawsuits that accuse the drug maker of hiding Depakote’s links to birth defects.

What is Depakote?

Depakote, also known as valproate semisodium or divalproex sodium, has been prescribed since 1983. It is used to treat epilepsy, seizures, and manic episodes of bipolar disorder. It can also be prescribed to prevent migraine headaches.

The drug has many known side effects, the most dangerous of them being the ones that affect an unborn child. These effects are numerous, including spina bifida and fetal death.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified Depakote as a Category D drug for pregnancy risk, meaning there is positive evidence of harm to the fetus.

Depakote’s History

Due to studies that linked Depakote to birth defects, in 2006 federal regulators required Abbott to put strong warnings on the drug’s safety labeling against using Depakote during pregnancy.

In 2010, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that linked Depakote to increased risks for six specific birth defects, one of which was spina bifida.

Sales of Depakote brought in more than $1.5 billion in 2007. It was Abbott’s second-biggest drug before it went off-patent the following year.

The Significance of Compensatory Damages and Punitive Damages

Victims of medical malpractice can claim a number of different types of damages. These include compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are amounts of money paid for the actual loss, including the cost of past and future treatment, rehabilitation, drugs, domestic and nursing services, and expenses associated with the injury, including loss of future income. They can also include damages for hard-to-estimate costs such as loss of consortium and pain and suffering. Punitive damages are awarded in order to punish a medical practitioner who is found to have malicious intent, and they are usually meted out only in extreme cases.

In the Depakote case under discussion, the $23 million award was for punitive damages, in addition to the $15 million compensatory damages award. The fact that such substantial punitive damages were awarded means that the jury believed the drug company deliberately hid the risks from patients and doctors.

A Clear Danger to Those of Childbearing Age

Because of this ruling, it is clear that Depakote should never be prescribed to anyone who is pregnant, think they might be pregnant, or might become pregnant. Should you have a medical problem that would appear to call for Depakote, we recommend that you have a serious conversation with your physician about the risks.

Concerned About Depakote Usage? Call “The Injury Lawyer.”

If you live in Maryland or the District of Columbia, have taken Depakote, and have concerns, seek the assistance of Baltimore drug injury lawyer Steven Heisler. He will fight for your right to compensation from “Big Pharma” for any harm caused by a dangerous, defectively designed or deceptively marketed drug. You can reach Steve at (410) 625-4878, or by using the online contact form, to arrange a no-obligation, no-fee initial consultation.