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First Paxil/Birth Defect Case Gets Major Win for the Plaintiff

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This week in Philadelphia, jurors ruled 10-2 that the drug company GlaxoSmithKline behaved negligently in connection with its antidepressant Paxil, which allegedly caused birth defects in a baby whose mother took it while pregnant.

The case is the first of about 600 similar lawsuits to go to trial, and the 10-2 ruling constitutes a big win for the plaintiff, Michelle David of Bensalem, whose son Lyam was born with heart problems that subsequently required a number of surgeries to correct.

The jury awarded David $2.5 million in compensatory damages, seeing a clear connection between Paxil and baby Lyam’s birth defects. It did not, however, award any punitive damages, finding that Glaxo’s behavior had not been “outrageous,” in that it had not deliberately ignored or covered up evidence that Paxil caused birth defects in order to better profit from drug sales.

According to the jury, Glaxo’s negligence revolved around its failure to adequately inform David’s doctor of the risk of birth defects associated with taking Paxil during pregnancy.

Glaxo apparently plans to appeal the ruling.

The process is like a battle where eventually the plaintiff "cries uncle" and drops the suit or the drug company agrees to settle, said Philadelphia plaintiffs’ lawyer Tom Kline, who is handling some Paxil birth-defect cases.

Kline said last week’s jury verdict was a strong win because birth defects were fairly common whether or not a pregnant woman takes a drug. That can make it hard to convince a jury that a product caused a birth defect, he said.

"The real hurdle is proving causation," said Kline, who has represented plaintiffs at trial in many cases involving birth defects. –Philadelphia Inquirer

The fact that causation was so overwhelmingly obvious, in this case, to the jurors sets a strong precedent for future cases involving Paxil’s relationship to birth defects.