A St. Louis jury on Wednesday awarded a Minnesota girl $23 million in punitive damages, deciding that Abbott’s anti-epileptic drug Depakote was to blame for her birth defects.
The 9-3 verdict in St. Louis Circuit Court follows the same jury’s earlier unanimous decision to award the 12-year-old plaintiff, Maddison Schmidt, $15 million in compensatory damages.
In total, the jury awarded $38 million to Schmidt, after finding that her birth defects, including spina bifida, were the result of her mother taking Depakote while pregnant.
Schmidt is one of two dozen plaintiffs, including some from the St. Louis area, with Depakote-related claims against Abbott pending in St. Louis Circuit Court. Schmidt was represented by attorneys with the Houston law firm Williams Kherkher.
Though Abbott is named in the suit, AbbVie Inc. is financially responsible for the judgment, according to regulatory filings.
When Abbott spun off its branded drug business as AbbVie in 2013, it required the new company to assume business-related liabilities that occurred before the spinoff, according to the company’s annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
AbbVie said Wednesday that it plans to appeal the verdict.
“We believe the evidence in this case clearly showed that the prescribing doctor and patient were well aware of those risks and made such an informed decision,” the company said in a statement.
Speaking after the verdict, juror Michael DiBartolo said assessing punitive damages was slightly more difficult than reaching a decision on compensatory damages.
“We’re putting dollar amounts on people’s mistakes,” DiBartolo said of Abbott. “It’s hard to do.”
DiBartolo, who voted in favor of the punitive damages, said they started at the number that the plaintiff’s attorney recommended: $150 million, or ten times the amount of compensatory damages.
“Obviously, it’s ridiculous,” DiBartolo said of the figure.
Juror Nancy Vermette, one of the three jurors who did not vote in favor of the $23 million figure, said the amount was too much.
“We felt ... (Abbott) barely went over the line,” Vermette said.
In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a “safety announcement” about pregnant women’s use of a a class of drugs based on valproate sodium, which included Depakote.
As part of the announcement, the FDA said the drug should only be taken by pregnant women with epilepsy or bipolar disorder if other medications are not effective or otherwise unacceptable in treating the two conditions.
Separately, in 2012, Abbott agreed to pay a $1.5 billion settlement with the federal government for unlawful promotional practices of Depakote for uses not approved by the FDA.
Abbott promoted the “off-label” use of Depakote for elderly patients with dementia and for individuals with schizophrenia. The drug was approved only for the treatment of epilepsy, bipolar disorder and migraines.
The drug generated $1.5 billion in U.S. sales in 2007 before its patent expired the following year, according to a regulatory filing by Abbott.
Samantha Liss • 314-340-8017
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