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$11 Million Topamax Birth Defect Award Stands

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Philadelphia, PAAn $11 million jury award that went to a Topamax plaintiff in November of last year will stand following the decision of a Philadelphia lawmaker. Court of Common Pleas Judge George W. Overton, in denying Johnson & Johnson (J&J) subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals’ motion for a new trial, upheld the Topamax birth defect jury award for the parents of Brayden Gurley.

Gurley was born with a severe cleft palate and other Topamax birth defects, plaintiffs in the case alleged to have been associated with the use of Topamax by the child’s mother, Haley Powell. In his decision, Judge Overton related the health implications already suffered by Brayden Gurley, and the challenges he is expected to face moving forward.

Overton noted that Gurley is unable to be understood in conversations with his peers, a challenge worsened further by residual scarring following surgery. The judge also noted that the boy must undertake ongoing consultations with a plastic surgeon, and faces additional oral surgery, dental surgery, speech therapy, auditory evaluations, the potential for rhinoplasty together with psychological treatment related to his various surgeries, and emotional challenges stemming from Topamax cleft palate.

“Given the injuries that will plague Brayden Gurley into adulthood, the award determined by the jury can hardly be said to be excessive,” Overton said, in his response.

Bloomberg (11/18/13) reported in November that attorneys for plaintiffs Haley Powell and Michael Gurley accused Janssen of operating in a culture of secrecy, intentionally withholding concerns about Topamax known to the company at the time, together with safety reports that suggested an association between Topamax and birth defects, dating back to 2003.

Plaintiffs further alleged that Janssen knew as early as 1997 that something was up with Topamax, but failed to alert the medical community.

Powell, according to Bloomberg, learned that she was pregnant in October 2007 - more than a year after first taking Topamax in tandem with another anti-epileptic drug.

Janssen argued in the original Topamax birth defect trial that cleft palate was a prevalent birth defect when measured across the general population. Janssen also held that the plaintiffs would have been sufficiently aware of the safety profile of Topamax, at the time Powell used the drug.

Nonetheless, in its November decision, the jury found that Janssen had failed to warn the stay-at-home mother of the risks associated with Topamax and potential birth defects, awarding the plaintiffs $11 million. At the time, Janssen announced its intention to appeal and did so, requesting a new trial.

That motion was denied, in Judge Overton’s ruling announced April 25. While the original award was just shy of $11 million, delay damages that were awarded December 3 of last year bring the total to $11,655.294. The original November 18th verdict was divided into $335,000 for future health care expenditures, together with $10.6 million for non-economic loss. Delay damages were awarded at $700,294.

Responding to Janssen’s 15-point appeal, Overton opined that Janssen was neither entitled to a new trial, nor remittitur. In his view, the jury award was appropriate given the nature and severity of Brayden Gurley’s injuries that were associated, according to the finding of the jury, with Topamax.

The case was Gurley v. Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceutical, 110502251, Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. The master case is In re Topamax Litigation, 110602131, Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.


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