An anti-convulsant ingested by pregnant women has allegedly caused severe birth defects in numerous babies, according to a group of 26 women in recently filed court documents.

Lead plaintiff Noelle Book and 25 other women filed a lawsuit Jan. 18 in St. Clair County Circuit Court against Abbott Laboratories, the makers of the anti-convulsant drug Depakote.

Christopher Cueto of the Law Office of Christopehr Cueto in Belleville; Robert L. Salim of Natchitoches; Jeffrey D. Meyer of Moulton and Meyer in Houston; Ralph D. McBride, Douglas A. Daniels and Blair R. Locke of Bracewell and Giuliani in Houston; Tommy Fibich of Fibich, Hampton and Leebron in Houston; and Lloyd M. Cueto of the Law Office of Lloyd M. Cueto in Belleville will be representing them.

In December, the same group of attorneys filed a similar suit on behalf of more than two dozen parents have from across the country.

According to the recent complaint, each of the women ingested the drug during their pregnancies, which caused their children to be born with birth defects ranging from spina bifida to heart defects.

Depakote -- a drug commonly used to treat epilepsy, depression, bi-polar disorder and chronic pain conditions -- can cause severe birth defects if taken during the first trimester of pregnancy, especially within the first 28 days, the suit states.

Among the major birth defects Depakote has been known to cause are cleft palate, cleft lip, limb and digital deformities, facial dysmorphism, mental developmental delays and genitourinary maloformations, the complaint says. One study claims the incidence rate of birth defects to be as common as one in every five children born, the plaintiffs claim.

The plaintiffs allege that Abbott knows of the potential birth defects its medication can cause, as evidenced by articles in scientific journals which point to Depakote as the most dangerous anti-convulsant to fetal health.

"Instead of working to warn doctors and women of childbearing age about the sharply heightened risks of ingesting Depakote during the early weeks of pregnancy, Abbott has consistently and systematically sought to minimize the risk and downplay the dangers in its product labeling of Depakote," the suit states.

Many women of childbearing age remain unaware of the potentially hazardous side effects of Abbott because the company only includes vague warnings about the risks of use during pregnancy, according to the complaint.

"As has been established, Depakote's effects cause irreversible and devastating injuries to the developing embryo before the mother or her physician even have a chance to discover the pregnancy," the complaint says.

Because of their ingestion of Depakote during their pregnancies, the plaintiffs claim they experienced severe and permanent injuries and suffered physical impairment and disfigurement. They also experienced physical pain, suffering, mental pain and loss of enjoyment of life; incurred medical costs; and lost their earnings and their future earning capacity, according to the complaint.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs allege strict products liability and negligence against the defendants.

They seek actual damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, economic damages, costs and other relief the court deems just.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number: 11-L-27.

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