A Massachusetts family was awarded $63 million in a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson on Wednesday, after their daughter, Samantha Reckis, experienced an extremely rare and life-threatening side effect from taking Children’s Motrin. After five weeks on trial, the jury concluded that the health care titan had been negligent in sufficiently warning patients about the dangerous side effects about the drug and should pay the Reckis family a total of $109 million, including interest.
Reckis, now 16, was seven when she began taking the specially formulated version of ibuprofen to treat a fever she had developed the day after Thanksgiving in 2003. Within days, she began exhibiting signs of toxic epidermal necrolysis, a skin disease that burned off 90 percent of her skin and left her blind. The condition inflamed Reckis’ throat, mouth, eyes, esophagus, intestinal tract and respiratory and reproductive system, CBS reported.
Reckis’ doctors were quickly forced to put her into a coma, and she later underwent 19 surgeries, including drilling through her skull to remove some of the pressure on her brain.
"It's like having your skin burned off of you," Bradley M. Henry, one of the family’s attorneys, told the Boston Globe. "Imagine your worst sunburn times 1,000. It's an absolutely devastating condition."
The condition, also known as TENS, usually results from a drug reaction but has also been triggered by infection, malignancy and vaccinations, according to Medscape. While TENS is rare, it is reportedly fatal in as many as 40 percent of cases.
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According to the Mayo Clinic, before the onset of a rash, patients often experience flu-like symptoms, including fever, sore throat, cough and burning eyes. In Reckis’ case, the illness left her with brain, lung and liver damage.
If the court decision is upheld, the damages for Johnson & Johnson will be the largest on record. In a brief statement after the verdict was announced, the Reckis family said, “Drug companies like Johnson & Johnson can no longer hide behind an approval by the overworked FDA as an excuse not to warn consumers about known, devastating drug reactions. ... Parents like us have a right to know.”
Shortly afterward, Johnson & Johnson issued a response expressing sympathy for the family but said that it plans to challenge the verdict.
“Children’s MOTRIN® (ibuprofen), when used as directed, is a safe and effective treatment option for minor aches and pains and fever,” Johnson & Johnson said. “And we believe the medicine is labeled appropriately.”