A record-breaking product liability award issued in 2013 by a Massachusetts jury will stand due to a recent denial of certiorari by the U.S. Supreme Court. In their January 19, 2016 orders list, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal of the verdict by Johnson & Johnson, maker of Children’s Motrin. The inaction by the High Court nearly ensures a win for the family of a Massachusetts woman who was left severely injured by the drug after developing the life-threatening skin condition toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN).
At trial and on appeal, Johnson & Johnson argued unsuccessfully that warning language about potential adverse skin reactions, which was proposed in a Citizen Petition, was explicitly rejected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The trial court and later the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found instead that the FDA rejected only a forced inclusion of references to TEN and the related condition, Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS), on the labels of certain ibuprofen-containing products. The FDA recommended that Johnson & Johnson and other drug manufacturers warn consumers of the potential for blistering and rashes which can progress to more serious, unspecified skin infections; such a warning was missing from the label of the Children’s Motrin given to the Massachusetts victim, however.
The victim – who, in 2003, was just seven-years-old – was administered Children’s Motrin by her father for fever and congestion. In a matter of days, she developed blisters and a rash, which rapidly progressed to TEN. Ultimately the victim would be placed in a medically-induced coma, only to spend the next six months in a hospital where she suffered strokes, heart failure, a cranial hemorrhage and other complications. Now 19, the victim is legally blind, cognitively disabled and dependent upon others for her care. Jurors awarded the victim $50 million in compensatory damages and each of her parents $6.5 million for their loss of consortium.
Johnson & Johnson sought Supreme Court review of the verdict in an October 2015 petition for certiorari. In their filing, Johnson & Johnson argued that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court erred by holding the rejection by the FDA regarding the specific warning language proposed in the Citizen Petition. They claim it did not constitute clear evidence sufficient to preempt the plaintiffs’ state tort law claim that Johnson & Johnson was obligated to add the rejected language to a drug label. Court documents show that – with accumulated prejudgment statutory interest compounded at 10% annually – the original award of $63 million on behalf of the Massachusetts victim and her family has ballooned to $140 million, the largest award ever in a Massachusetts personal injury case.
Drug manufacturers have a duty to provide accurate warnings about the potential of their products to cause harm. If you or a loved one has been injured by an over-the-counter medication, our Philadelphia products liability lawyers at Galfand Berger will investigate your claim. With offices in Philadelphia, Reading and Bethlehem, we proudly serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Call 800-222-8792 or complete an online contact form to schedule your free consultation today.