The jury in the $1 billion lawsuit against Children's Motrin, a widely-used pain reliever, has decided that the drugmaker, Johnson & Johnson, is not liable for damages experienced by Sabrina Johnson, a California girl, now 11, whose parents say she suffered pain and blindness after they gave her recommended doses of the drug in 2003.
Deliberating in Malibu, Calif., in Los Angeles Superior Court, the jurors took three and a half days to come to their decision.
The verdict, which came down Thursday afternoon, sparked outrage from the attorney of the girl's family and a reaffirmation from McNeil Consumer Health Care, the J & J subsidiary that makes Children's Motrin (Ibuprofen), that their drug is safe and effective.
Children's Motrin Case: Attorney of Girl's Family Reacts
"The jury found in this case that Johnson & Johnson and McNeil, their wholly owned subsidiary, knew of the dangerous risk of side effects inherent in this drug," says Browne Greene of Greene, Broillet, and Wheeler in Santa Monica, Calif. "It found they failed to warn adequately of these risks and yet found the failing to warn had nothing to do with the injuries. In other word they found that a better warning would not have made a difference."
His reaction? ''Incredible beyond the evidence," he says.
Children's Motrin Case: McNeil Responds
In a prepared statement, spokesman Marc Boston of McNeil says: ''McNeil PPC Inc., agrees with the outcome of today's verdict. As the makers of Children's Motrin (ibuprofen), we are deeply concerned about all matters related to our medicines and are committed to providing safe and effective medicines. While we are sympathetic to the pain and hardship suffered by Sabrina Johnson, Children's Motrin has been proven safe and effective for the treatment of minor aches and pains and fever when used as directed and the medicine is labeled appropriately. We strongly recommend consumers read the product label for dosing information and warnings and talk with their health care professional if they have any questions or concerns."
Children's Motrin Case: Back Story
Sabrina Johnson's parents gave her the drug to treat a fever when she returned from school one afternoon and again that night, Greene says, "and all that led to Stevens-Johnson syndrome."
Stevens-Johnson syndrome is a rare and serious disorder of the skin and mucous membranes. The cause is not always clear, according to experts at Mayo Clinic, but is usually a type of allergic reaction in response to medication or infection.
The next morning, according to the lawsuit, Sabrina woke with a high fever. Her eyes had turned pink and her mouth was swollen and had sores. At the hospital, she was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome. The damage to the eyes caused great pain, Greene says, and eventually blinded her. While prescription versions of ibuprofen have the warning about the link to Stevens-Johnson, he says, over-the -counter versions do not.
The Malibu case is one of about 60 such lawsuits against Children's Motrin, according to Greene, who is representing two other families. Greene's clients asked for slightly less than a billion dollars, he tells WebMD, including actual damages, pain and suffering, and punitive damages.
Children's Motrin Case: Second Opinion
The verdict may not mean other cases won't go the other way, says Miles Cooper, an attorney with The Veen Firm in San Francisco, who has experience in product liability cases.
"One verdict is not enough to predict the outcomes of the 60 cases," he tells WebMD. "I expect this case will be appealed by the plaintiffs. And there would need to be at least four to six more cases tried to see what the jurors' trends are."
A physician who has testified in product liability cases says he is not surprised by the verdict. "Many, many OTC [over-the-counter] drugs can cause Stevens-Johnson syndrome," says Neal Benowitz, MD, a professor of medicine and biopharmaceutical sciences at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. "It's very rare," he adds.
"Manufacturers cannot put every side effect down on a label, there is just not room. What manufacturers have to do is just pick out the most common and the most serious."