$11 Mil. Verdict Awarded in Topamax Birth Defect Case

, The Legal Intelligencer



An $11 million verdict has been awarded to the parents of a child born with congenital defects due to an anticonvulsant drug his mother took during pregnancy.

Stanley Thompson, director of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas' Complex Litigation Center, said that out of the 132 Topamax mass tort cases currently under way, Powell v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals was the second to render a verdict.

The first case to produce a verdict was Czimmer v. Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, which rendered a $4 million verdict Oct. 31, according to Thompson.

The jury in Powell returned an $11 million verdict to Haley Powell and Michael Gurley, the parents of Brayden Gurley, on Nov. 18 after deliberating seven hours in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. The verdict was divided into $335,000 for future health care expenses and $10.6 million for non-economic loss.

The plaintiffs were represented by Laura Feldman and Rosemary Pinto of Philadelphia-based Feldman & Pinto and Shelley Hutson of Clark, Love & Hutson in Houston.

Powell's pretrial memorandum alleged that Powell's ingestion of the drug Topamax (also called topiramate)—prescribed to control her migraine headaches and hand tremors during the first trimester of pregnancy in 2007—caused her son to be born with right unilateral cleft lip.

According to court papers, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the maker of the drug, knew about the risk of birth defects associated with Topamax, but failed to provide adequate warning to users.

"A decade before Janssen got around to changing its label [in 2011], internal Janssen documents concluded that Topamax can cause birth defects," court papers alleged, adding that a 2001 informed consent form draft from Janssen stated, "Topiramate has the potential to cause serious birth defects in children."

Powell was prescribed several different anticonvulsant medications since 2005, when she suffered a single seizure. According to court papers, Powell's doctor prescribed Topamax for her tension headaches and migraines in March 2006.

When Powell exhausted her supply of the drug, Powell's mother—who was also prescribed Topamax—began sharing her supply with her daughter, court papers said.

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