Abbott Labs can't move out-of-state plaintiffs' Depakote effects lawsuits out of Cook County: Appeals panel

By DM Herra | Oct 4, 2018

An appellate court has denied Abbott Laboratories’ attempt to move a pair of lawsuits, each of which claim the drugmaker didn’t do enough to warn pregnant women of the risks of birth defects from its drug Depakote, to a new venue, ruling that the company could not provide a compelling reason the courts should make the out-of-state plaintiffs file suit in their home states, and not in Cook County.

A three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate said they found no merit to Abbott’s claim that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied the pharmaceutical giant’s motion to move the trial outside Cook County.

The lawsuit was brought by plaintiffs Angela Benedict and Kimberly Hand, who claim their children suffered severe birth defects because the mothers took Depakote, an epilepsy drug manufactured by Abbott, during pregnancy.

Abbott, which is headquartered in Illinois, argued the county’s courts is an inconvenient venue because the two plaintiffs in the case are from Colorado and Missouri. The company asked the court to dismiss the case in Illinois for refiling in the plaintiffs’ home states, or to transfer it from Cook to Lake County, where Abbott is headquartered.

Moving the case to Missouri or Colorado would only solve the venue problem for one of the two plaintiffs, the court wrote. Abbott argued that the plaintiffs’ claims “rely on their individual physicians, family members, educators, medical records, pharmacy records, insurance records, education records, and sources of such records” and so should be heard in the states where those records exist.

The court was unconvinced, pointing out that in the digital era documentary evidence is easily scanned and sent from one state to another and that state law permits evidence from physicians to be introduced regardless of the witness’ availability.

Testimony from witnesses like family members and teachers relates to elements of injury, causation and damages, the justices wrote – all burdens borne by the plaintiffs and not the concern of the defendant.

On the other hand, dozens of Abbott employees with knowledge of the facts at issue in the case are located in the Chicago area.

“While defendant lists categories of individuals, such as treating physicians, who it believes will not be available in Cook County, defendant has not identified a single witness by name who would be unwilling to testify in Illinois,” Gordon wrote.

In fact, Illinois seems to be a far more convenient location for Abbott, which is headquartered here, than for the plaintiffs, the judges wrote.

The court said Abbott’s request for a transfer to Lake County was backed by little argument. The company is headquartered in Lake County “approximately 34 to 36 miles from Cook County Circuit Court.” In reviewing this request, the justices noted that many people commute by car and train between the two counties on a daily basis.

“In light of the fact that Lake County is adjacent to Cook County and that defendant’s headquarters is only an hour and a half from the Cook County circuit court in downtown Chicago and only a half hour from the Cook County circuit court in Skokie, we cannot find that this factor weighs in favor of an intrastate transfer,” the justices wrote.

The decision was authored by Justice Robert E. Gordon, with justices David Ellis and Eileeen O'Neill Burke concurring. 

According to Cook County court records, the plaintiffs are represented by attorney William T. Dowd, of St. Louis.

Abbott has been represented by the firm of Bryan Cave LLP, of Chicago.

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Abbott Laboratories Bryan Cave LLP Circuit Court of Cook County Illinois First District Appellate Court William T Dowd

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