A Philadelphia jury awarded $10 million recently to a 13-year-old girl after finding that she suffered a life-threatening drug reaction back in 2000. Brianna Maya, a Tennessee resident, was three-and-a-half years old when she was given Children’s Motrin brand ibuprofen. Over the next few days, after the over-the-counter medicine was given, a fine rash appeared on her body along with a mild redness around her eyes. This morphed into something insidious: a rare, painful and potentially fatal skin reaction that burned and blistered her body inside and out, blinded her in one eye and left her fighting for her life in a burn unit 1,000 miles from home. Doctors at Shriners Burn Hospital in Galveston, Texas, concluded that Brianna’s reaction was triggered by Children’s Motrin, a brand of the popular anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen. As you may know, this is an over-the-counter drug that doesn’t require a prescription.
In 2000, the label that her mother read on the Children’s Motrin package made no mention of Brianna’s diagnoses, Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis syndrome (TENS). Stevens-Johnson blisters and breaks down the mucus membranes of the cornea, mouth, rectum, vagina and urethra. TENS, a more severe form, affects a greater percentage of the skin and mucus membranes.
Stevens-Johnson and TENS are variously estimated to affect from one in a million to eight in a million people. We have written in past issues how devastating SJS/TENS can be. It’s virtually impossible to comprehend the effects on a person until you witness it. Brianna, now 13, has spent the last decade living the painful aftermath of SJS/TENS. She has undergone repeated eye surgeries and suffered recurrent eye and lung infections. She developed seizures stemming from oxygen-deprivation during the worst of her illness last year. Doctors have had difficulty controlling her seizures because anti-seizure drugs can trigger Stevens-Johnson syndrome. She lost 84% of her skin, was blinded and suffered brain damage. Brianna’s lung capacity is now 50% of normal.
It’s significant that McNeil Laboratories issued warnings for prescription versions, but not over-the-counter versions. The primary issue in this case was what constitutes an adequate warning. It has been reported that some doctors are still unaware that medicines can trigger SJS/TENS. The drug companies have both a legal and moral obligation to inform the medical community and the public of known risks related to drugs they market. Keith Jensen, Eric Roberson and Xavier Gonzalez, lawyers with Ft. Worth-based Jensen Belew & Gonzalez; and Scott D. Levensten, of the Levensten law firm in Philadelphia, represented the Plaintiff. They did a very good job.
Sources: The Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today and Insurance Journal
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