Philadelphia Jury Returns $4 Million Verdict in Topamax Lawsuit, But Will it Stand?

A Philadelphia County jury returned a verdict in excess of $4 Million on behalf of plaintiffs who alleged that their child suffered birth defects related to his mother’s use of Topamax during pregnancy, but the complex procedural battle which occurred before the October 30th verdict suggests that the final chapter has yet to be written in this case.

Plaintiffs, April and Blake Czimmer, filed suit in 2011 alleging that April took the anti-seizure medication Topamax (Topiramate) for six months during her pregnancy, and their child was subsequently born with a cleft palate which required multiple surgeries to correct. The Czimmers alleged in their Complaint that Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the product manufacturer and a division of Johnson & Johnson, failed to adequately warn physicians of the full extent of risk for birth defects resulting from use of Topamax, which had been the subject of an FDA warning in 2011. At that time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that Topamax increased the risk of certain congenital defects, and in particular oral clefts in babies born to women who ingested the drug during pregnancy.

Review of the court’s electronic docket system reveals that the Czimmers’ lawsuit was vigorously contested by the manufacturer, including an Order entered in July 2013 dismissing many of the original counts of the Plaintiffs’ Complaint. At that time, Judge Arnold New granted partial summary judgment in Janssen’s favor, finding against the plaintiffs on strict liability, negligent design, breach of warranty, loss of consortium and punitive damages claims. The plaintiffs’ failure-to-warn claim survived, and it was on that basis that the jury ultimately returned its verdict.

The state court record also revealed an extensive pretrial motion practice, with nearly five dozen motions in limine filed by the parties in the months before trial. According to the docket, only 13 such motions were decided before trial proceedings began, and we anticipate that post-trial motions will now incorporate the unresolved motions as grounds to set aside the verdict.

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