JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court has upheld a $38 million award in a personal-injury suit against Abbott Laboratories over its antiepileptic drug Depakote.

In a ruling issued Sept. 12, the high court found that Abbott had received a fair trial at St. Louis City Circuit Court that included evidence that "motivated by profits, Abbott deliberately disregarded the safety of Depakote users."

The case of Maddison Schmidt, who was born with spina bifida and other birth defects and who resides in Minnesota, was joined in suit with four Missouri plaintiffs and 19 other non-Missourians to file a single action against Abbott.

St. Louis City Circuit Court Judge Steven R. Ohmer presided at trial.

Although Abbott raised objections to venue and joinder, both an appeals court and the supreme court denied the company's petitions for writ of mandamus or in the alternative, writ of prohibition.

Schmidt’s claims proceeded to jury trial, although all of the other plaintiffs' claims remained joined in one action, the ruling states.

Plaintiff attorneys argued that Abbott was negligent in failing to warn of the risk of birth defects posed by the drug. And while Abbott moved for a directed verdict on failure to warn and punitive damages, Ohmer rejected Abbott's motions at the end of evidence.

The jury awarded $15 million in compensatory damages and $23 million in punitive damages.

Post-trial, Abbott's moves for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial also were rejected by Ohmer. 

Justice W. Brent Powell wrote the opinion for the unanimous court, with Justice Paul Wilson concurring in a separate opinion.

Regarding the punitive damages award on appeal, Abbott only challenged the award, not the amount.

The high court found there was evidence that the drug maker was aware of studies that Depakote "was much more dangerous in terms of birth defects than its label suggested."

"In addition, there was evidence presented that, despite this knowledge, Abbott conducted no independent research or studies of its own to evaluate Depakote’s risks for birth defects," Powell wrote. "There was evidence showing Abbott instead spent $50 million to $100 million per year marketing Depakote, sought to ‘squeeze every dollar and every [prescription for Depakote] out of the market,’ and intended to make Depakote the first choice antiepileptic drug for women, despite internally referring to it as a ‘dirty drug.'"

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