Appeals Court Upholds $3M Verdict for Child’s Birth Injuries in Johnson & Johnson Topamax Case

Simmons Hanly Conroy, a national litigation firm, announced on May 16, 2016 that a Pennsylvania appeals court has upheld a $3 million verdict against Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, for severe birth injuries resulting from the mother taking Topamax during pregnancy.

Simmons Hanly Conroy and National Trial Lawyers: Top 100 attorney Andrew Williams represented parents Kelly and Brian Anderson against Janssen and Johnson & Johnson in the 2014 trial in the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia County. The Andersons’ daughter was born in 2008 with bilateral cleft palate and lip. The jury found the drug manufacturer was liable for failing to warn the mother’s doctors of the increased risk of birth injuries when Topamax is taken during the first trimester.

On May 11, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the jury’s ruling, finding that Janssen failed to make proper efforts, in general, to warn doctors about what risks it may have known about Topamax.

“The Superior court’s decision again proves that big pharmaceutical companies consistently hide dangerous side effects from the American public, but that our legal system allows consumers and families to level the playing field and hold them accountable,” Williams said. “Simmons Hanly Conroy is pleased to secure justice for this well-deserving family and ensure their little girl receives the quality care and treatment she deserves.”

On the appeal, Janssen argued it should not be found liable for failing to warn because it was unable to change the drug’s pregnancy warning level via the label without permission from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

The three-judge panel disagreed, saying because Janssen is a name-brand drug manufacturer, it still had a duty to warn doctors and the labeling was a separate issue.

“Janssen’s argument fails to differentiate between the nonspecific, potential risk that Topamax’s Category C label implied and a known risk in which the drug has been scientifically established to cause particular birth defects,” the opinion said. “The evidence presented at trial indicated that Janssen knew of a causal relationship between Topamax and specific birth defects, including cleft palate, but failed to disseminate the information so that Kelly’s physicians would be adequately warned.”

Topamax is prescribed to help prevent certain types of seizures and to prevent migraine headaches in adults. The Antiepileptic Drug Pregnancy Registry reports a 3.8 percent prevalence of oral birth defects in children exposed to Topamax in utero during the first trimester. Two of the particular risks listed by this registry are cleft lip and/or cleft palate in newborns, which is known to develop in the first trimester of pregnancy before many women even know that they are pregnant.

The FDA required the pharmaceutical company to update Topamax’s label in 2011, three years after the Anderson child’s birth.

Kelly Anderson took Topamax to treat migraine headaches in 2007 and 2008 while pregnant. She was unaware of the dangerous effects it could have on her unborn child. In August 2008, Anderson’s daughter was born with bilateral cleft palate and lip.

Since then, the child has required more than 14 procedures, including several surgeries, to treat the condition. She has also suffered hearing loss, speech problems, and has been bullied because of her speech and appearance.

The jury awarded $1.5 million to the little girl for non-economic damages and $1.5 million to her parents to pay for her anticipated healthcare expenses.

“The outcome is not about the money,” the family said in a prepared statement. “It’s about a jury giving us justice for us and our child. We hope this will help make sure no other children have to live with the injuries our daughter has endured.”

The case is Anderson et al. v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., case number 2330 EDA 2014, in the Superior Court of the State of Pennsylvania.

Reddick Moss law firm wins record verdict in Colorado

In what is believed to be a record-setting verdict in Pueblo Colorado, a jury awarded more than $5.5 million for the wrongful death and suffering of Sophia Alcon, a resident at Life Care Center of Pueblo.

“It was an honor to represent this entire family on behalf of their mother. At the end of the day, we had a jury that really didn’t like this company putting profits ahead of patient care and then failing to come to Pueblo to answer for any of the poor care, gaps in the charting, and the staffing shortages, all of which led to a horrific outcome for Ms. Alcon,” said National Trial Lawyers: Top 100 Civil Plaintiff member Brent Moss, one of the attorneys for the Alcon family.

Details of the case are as follows:

• Plaintiff George Alcon was awarded a unanimous verdict of $5,557,066.43 in the District Court of Pueblo County, Colorado on Friday, May 13, 2016.
• Attorneys from Reddick Moss, PLLC represented Mr. Alcon in the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf Mr. Alcon’s mother, against Life Care Center of Pueblo, a nursing home, and its corporate parent, Life Care Centers of America, Inc.
• The jury awarded $500,000 in damages stemming from the wrongful death of Sophia Alcon, $57,066.43 in economic damages for negligence, and another $5 million in punitive damages for wrongful death.
• Both Defendants were held jointly liable for Ms. Alcon’s death after the jury concluded that the Pueblo nursing home was operated as a joint venture by Life Care Centers of America, Inc. and South Pueblo Medical Investors, LTD, a company doing business as Life Care Centers of Pueblo.
• Ms. Alcon’s son, and personal representative of her Estate, George Alcon, filed this lawsuit on January 30, 2015, against the nursing home and its corporate owner, Life Care Centers of America, Inc.
• Denver-based attorney Brent L. Moss, along with Brian D. Reddick and Robert Francis of Little Rock, Arkansas, all from the Reddick Moss, PLLC law firm, represented the Alcon family. Kevin Kuhn, Michele Choe, and Nick Boeving of Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell, LLP in Denver, Colorado represented the Defendants.

This verdict is the second multi-million dollar verdict in two years in Pueblo by the Reddick Moss law firm. The previous verdict was entered on May 22, 2014 in the case of Alice M. Franz, as Attorney-in-Fact of James Edmond Sharon v. SSC Pueblo Belmont Operating Company, LLC d/b/a Belmont Lodge Health Care Center, SavaSeniorCare Administrative Services, LLC, and SavaSeniorCare Consulting, LLC. In that case, the jury awarded James Edmond Sharon $300,000 for negligence and $3,000,000 in punitive damages jointly against the operators of Belmont Lodge Health Care Center, a nursing home in Pueblo, Colorado.