In a June trial, an Illinois federal jury found that Abbott Laboratories failed to properly warn doctors about the risk of a severe birth defect in the babies of women taking its blockbuster drug Depakote. The jury awarded Stevie Gonzalez, a 10-year-old boy born with the defect, $15 million. The jury found that doctors who prescribed the drug to the child’s mother, Christina Raquel, were not aware that her risk of having a baby born with spina bifida or other major malformations was greater than 10 percent. However, the jury declined to award punitive damages against Abbott in a separate proceeding that immediately followed their initial verdict.

During the trial, Stevie’s lawyers contended that Abbott made a conscious decision not to update its label to include the 10 percent figure in an effort to keep Depakote – the first of Abbott’s drugs to hit $1 billion in sales – profitable for the drugmaker. Doctors treating Raquel for her severe bipolar disorder only saw a label that described the risk of spina bifida as 1 or 2 percent.

Raquel sued Abbott in 2015, claiming her doctors didn’t have all the necessary information when they put her on Depakote to treat her severe bipolar depression in the months before she became pregnant with Stevie. Abbott separated some of its pharmaceutical business – including the rights to Depakote – into a separate pharmaceutical company, AbbVie, in 2013.

This case is the sixth suit over Depakote, an antiepilepsy drug used to treat a number of different conditions, to go to trial. Earlier suits tried in federal courts in Illinois and Ohio resulted in verdicts for the pharmaceutical company. In state court in Missouri, a jury awarded a group of 25 Plaintiffs $38 million.

There are hundreds of suits filed against Abbott by mothers and children who say they were not told of the true dangers to developing fetuses when they were given the medication. The bulk of them are consolidated in the Southern District of Illinois, where Judge Rosenstengel has explored both a bellwether and a batching method to deal with the claims. Attempts to reach a global settlement have failed, and Abbott has fought the wave of suits.

Testimony from an Abbott representative was that the company didn’t consider data from the studies that put the risk at more than 10 percent was important enough to be included on the label. Abbott was said during the trial to put their profits over their patients.

Raquel is represented by John E. Williams Jr. and John T. Boundas of Williams Kherkher Hart Boundas LLP. The case is E.G. et al. v. Abbott Laboratories Inc., (case number 3:15-cv-00702) in the Southern District of Illinois.


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