A Plymouth Superior Court jury on Wednesday awarded a Plymouth family $63 million after their 7-year old daughter suffered a severe allergic reaction 10 years ago to Children’s Motrin, a version of ibuprofen made by drug giant Johnson & Johnson.
The child, now a teenager, was originally given the popular pain reliever after showing signs of fever. But after continuing to take the drug, Samantha T. Reckis developed blisters and fatigue—and the condition only grew worse.
Within days, it was diagnosed as Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, a rare and serious reaction to some medications, including ibuprofen. Hundreds of people contract the disease a year in the United States—nearly one-third of whom die and many other are either blinded or suffer other serious conditions.
“It’s like having your skin burned off of you,” said one of the family’s attorneys, Bradley M. Henry of Boston law firm Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow. “Imagine your worst sunburn times 1,000. It’s an absolutely devastating condition.”
Reckis was in and out of the hospital for months, is now legally blind, and cannot walk more than 150 yards without exhaustion, her family said.
The jury found that Johnson & Johnson and the division that makes the medicine, McNeil Consumer & Speciality Pharmaceuticals, failed to provide warnings about potential side effects on the versions of Motrin that are sold over-the-counter. The jury awarded the girl $50 million and each parent $6.5 million. The decision must still be reviewed by the trial judge.
If upheld by the trial judge the total verdict against Johnson & Johnson, McNeil Consumer & Speciality Pharmaceuticals, with interest could ultimately be worth $109 million.
This isn’t the first time that a court has found Johnson & Johnson liable, but would likely be the largest on record if upheld. A Califronia court awarded a $48 million judgment in Los Angeles in September 2011 and a Philadelphia court awarded a $10 million judgement in July 2011.
In the Plymouth case, the family’s lawyers argued that Johnson & Johnson failed to adequately warn consumers of the potential side-effect, so they could stop taking the drug at the first signs of symptoms. Henry said the prescription version had only a technical warning in the fine print and the over-the-counter medication contained no warning at all.
“We are not saying they should take it off the market,” Henry said. “They just need to warn people.”
The company issued a statement saying it sympathized deeply with the family, but disagreed with the verdict and is considering its legal options.
“Children’s MOTRIN® (ibuprofen), when used as directed, is a safe and effective treatment option for minor aches and pains and fever,” the company said, “and we believe the medicine is labeled appropriately.”