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$4 Million Awarded In 1st Pa. Trial Alleging Birth Defect From Topamax Epilepsy Drug

PHILADELPHIA — (Mealey’s) A Pennsylvania jury on Oct. 30 found that Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. failed to warn about the risk of birth defects from its Topamax epilepsy drug and awarded the injured minor $4 million in damages (April Czimmer, et al. v. Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceutica, No. 1105-03459, Pa. Comm. Pls., Philadelphia Co.).

 The jury in the Philadelphia County Common Pleas Court found that Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. (formerly Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceutica), negligently failed to warn health care providers “of the extent of the risk of birth defects” from Topamax and that its negligence was a substantial factor in causing a cleft lip/cleft palate in Blake Czimmer, son of lead plaintiff April Czimmer. 

The jury awarded Blake Czimmer $562,184.68 in future health care costs and $3,440,000 for pain and suffering. 

12-Day Trial 

The trial began Oct. 15.  The jury began deliberating Oct. 30 and returned its verdict late in the afternoon. 

Judge Victor Dinubile presided.  

Janssen had moved for a directed verdict before the jury’s deliberations. 

Prescribed For Migraines 

April Czimmer alleges that she was prescribed Topamax from August 2006 to February 2007 to treat migraines.  When her son Blake was born in September 2007, he had a cleft palate and cleft lip. 

In 2011, Czimmer sued Janssen in state court, and her case became part of the Topamax complex litigation docket. 

Czimmer’s claims are for negligence, fraud and misrepresentation.  In July, Judge Arnold New granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss Czimmer’s strict liability, negligent design and breach of warranty claims. 

Judge New also dismissed Czimmer’s claim for punitive damages. 

Expert Rulings 

In April, Judge New denied the defendant’s motion to move the case based on forum non conveniens.  In July, he denied the defendants’ motion to exclude evidence about informed consent. 

Also in July, Judge New denied motions to exclude defense experts Dena Hixon, M.D., Anthony R. Scialli, M.D., and Dr. Stephen D. Silberstein and to exclude plaintiff experts Dr. Richard H. Finnell, Kant Lin, M.D., Dr. Philip Joseph Lupo Jr., Peggy Pence, Ph.D., and Dr. Russell Reid. 

According to a Form 10-Q report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission by Janssen parent company Johnson & Johnson, there are 130 Topamax birth defect cases pending. 


Czimmer is represented by Rosemary Pinto of Feldman & Pinto in Philadelphia; Scott A. Love and Shelley V. Hutson of Clark, Love & Hutson in Houston; Jay Henderson of Jay Henderson PLLC in Houston; Kenneth T. “Tommy” Fibich of Fibich, Hampton, Leebron, Briggs & Josephson in Houston; Eric H. Weitz of Messa & Associates in Philadelphia; and Blake A. Deady of Houston. 

Janssen is represented by Melissa A. Graff, Kenneth A. Murphy, Molly E. Flynn and Kathryn E. Deal of Drinker, Biddle & Reath in Philadelphia, William V. Essig of Drinker Biddle in Chicago and John D. Winter, James F. Murdica and Peter C. Harvey of Patterson Belknap in New York. 

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