A federal jury in New Hampshire awarded $21 million last month to a woman blinded and scarred by a prescription drug she took for shoulder pain. Karen Bartlett, 51, suffered extreme burns to her skin, mucus membranes and eyes after taking the anti-inflammatory drug Sulindac. The jury found Philadelphia-based Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. liable for her injuries. The jurors found that the company should have known the drug was unreasonably dangerous to consumers. This was the largest award in a New Hampshire product liability case. The largest previous award was $13 million in a 1993 case involving a construction site accident. Ms. Bartlett said her goal in filing the lawsuit was not for the money, but to educate others about the dangers of prescription drugs. She added:
That was my biggest thing – getting the word out. Before this happened to me, I never knew something like this could happen just from taking medication. The verdict was a source of consolation, and the road to reach it has been very nerve-wracking, very emotional and very long.
Mrs. Bartlett began taking Sulindac in January 2005 to treat shoulder pain. Two weeks later, she noticed red spots on her face and irritation around her eyes. She was admitted to the hospital on February 2, 2005, complaining of feeling like there were “pebbles” under her eyelids and in her throat, and suffering from a worsening rash. She was diagnosed as having Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis (SJS/TEN) — potentially fatal skin diseases that inflame the mucus membranes and eyes and are marked by a skin rash that burns off the outer layer of skin. She spent 112 days in five hospitals, including the Massachusetts General Hospital Burn Unit. The disease also seared her throat, stomach and lungs, causing permanent disabilities. She has undergone 12 eye operations and is legally blind.
Evidence presented during the 14-day trial included graphic photographs of ulcerated burns on her body and of her disfigured eyes. Sulindac has the highest reported incidents of SJS/TEN of any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug on the market. The drug’s dangers clearly outweighed any benefit it offered. Many believe that this drug should never have been put on the market and should be recalled. I totally agree!
In 2005, Mutual changed the warning label accompanying Sulindac to elaborate on its possible side effects, including SJS/TEN. Clinoril, which Ms. Bartlett’s doctor prescribed, is the brand name commonly associated with Sulindac. Keith Jensen, a lawyer from Ft. Worth, Texas, represented Ms. Bartlett and he did a very good job for her.
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