"If you're the parent or guardian of a child born with birth defects as a result of the mother taking Depakote during pregnancy, time is of the essence," Stewart says. "You should file a claim immediately to ensure you do not miss an opportunity to recover moneys to help care for that child."
Why the mother was prescribed Depakote becomes an important issue in these cases. Some mothers are severe epileptics and, despite the risk of birth defects, there may have been no better medication choice. But some mothers may have been prescribed Depakote for migraines in which case the benefits of taking the medication may have been far outweighed by the risks.
In addition to birth defects such as spina bifida, allegations have been raised that use of Depakote while pregnant has resulted in neurological damage that caused genital deformations in babies. Those deformations allegedly result in babies who will, as adults, be unable to have sex or have babies of their own.
"These are babies who will grow up and be unable to reproduce and the damage associated with that has a value," Stewart says. "How much is it worth to be able to have children? These children were born with deformed genitalia, rendering them sexually incompetent and unable to reproduce. They're deprived of their intimate human need for bonding and procreation."
Complicating matters is that some of the effects of Depakote on adults and children might not be seen for years after the exposure. Although there is a legal argument that in such cases the statute of limitations should be extended because the person could not know in that time frame that they were harmed, such decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
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Because potential settlement discussions are ongoing, potential claimants should contact an attorney to ensure their legal rights are protected. Factors that determine eligibility to file a claim include the reason for prescribing Depakote, the child's date of birth, the daily dose prescribed and the child's injuries.
"The best option is not to wait if people fit into the matrix of those affected by Depakote," Stewart says. "There are certain criteria we look for in determining eligible clients. If they fit into that criteria, they shouldn't wait because there's no guarantee they could later bring a claim."