Girl suffers severe allergic reaction to Motrin

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Recent Cases: Drugs

April/May 2013, Volume 32, No. 2

Girl suffers severe allergic reaction to Motrin 

Reckis v. Johnson & Johnson, No. PLCV2007-00064 (Mass., Plymouth Co. Super. Feb. 13, 2013).

When Samantha Reckis, 7, developed a fever in November 2003, her parents gave her periodic doses of Children’s Motrin. Samantha developed Stevens Johnson Syndrome (SJS), which progressed to Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN).

Both SJS and TEN are rare, potentially life-threatening conditions caused by a severe allergic reaction to certain drugs. The diseases attack the skin and mucous membranes, causing the skin to blister, burn, and fall off, and causing severe injuries to the mouth, lungs, eyes, and other mucous membrane organs. The conditions attacked Samantha’s eyes, respiratory and reproductive systems, and intestinal tract. She was hospitalized for months and underwent numerous surgeries. Doctors reportedly also had to drill through her skull to relieve pressure on her brain. Her past medical expenses totaled about $811,400.

Samantha lost 90 percent of the skin on her body, resulting in disfiguring, burn-like scars, and she is legally blind. In addition, she suffered permanent liver and lung damage, and she has only 20 percent of her original lung capacity. She also suffers from short-term memory loss. Now 16, she is an honors student, but because of short-term memory loss, she must work harder than other students to retain information.

Samantha’s parents, individually and on her behalf, sued Johnson & Johnson and McNeil Consumer Healthcare division, the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary that manufactures Children’s Motrin, alleging failure to adequately warn of the risk of SJS/TEN. The plaintiffs contended that the defendants were aware that ibuprofen-based products cause SJS/TEN and had included a brief warning about the risk on the prescription version of Children’s Motrin, but failed to include a similar warning on the over-the-counter version. The plaintiffs contended that the labeling for the over-the-counter product should have warned that use should be discontinued if redness, rash, or blistering appeared, as those could lead to potentially life-threatening results.

The defendants denied that Motrin caused Samantha’s SJS/TEN and contended that the drug’s warning was adequate.

The jury found that Children’s Motrin had caused Samantha’s SJS/TEN and that the defendants had failed to adequately warn of the risk. The jury awarded $63 million, including $50 million in compensatory damages to Samantha and $6.5 million to each parent. Under Massachusetts law, prejudgment interest from the time the complaint was filed added 12 percent per year to the verdict, bringing the full amount, with prejudgment interest, to approximately $109 million.

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ members Leo V. Boyle, Bradley M. Henry, and Michael B. Bogdanow, all of Boston.

Comment: For a similar case involving a 3-year-old girl who developed SJS/TEN after receiving Children’s Motrin, see Maya v. Johnson & Johnson, 30 PLLR 52 (Aug./Sept. 2011). For a case involving a 40-year-old woman who developed SJS/TEN from Children’s Motrin, see Robinson v. McNeil Consumer Healthcare, 28 PLLR 164 (Dec. 2009/Jan. 2010).

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