Here’s even more evidence that justice can still be achieved in this day and age, when one small family takes on a huge corporation, whose negligence caused them devastating harm.
This week, the family of a little girl in Plymouth, Massachusetts who was devastatingly injured in 2003 due to taking Children’s Motrin, was awarded $63 Million by a Massachusetts jury. The jury found that Johnson & Johnson – a giant in the healthcare industry – was liable, because it had failed to warn the public adequately about the potential side effects of Children’s Motrin – of the USA’s most common household medications. The girl’s family commented that the verdict, given by a jury in Plymouth, was “a historic day for consumer safety.” As a Boston, Massachusetts injury attorney, to say that I could not agree more, is an understatement.
The plaintiff here is Samantha Reckis, who was just seven years old in 2003 when she was given Children’s Motrin after she showed signs of having a fever. Unfortunately, as she continued to take the drug, she developed far worse symptoms. Her family actually didn’t think that she would survive. The young child was suffering from a condition known as Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis. This is an extremely painful – and rare – skin condition that is caused by an adverse reaction to medication, notably Ibuprofen. Ibuprofen, of course, is the popular painkiller that is sold under the mass-market brand “Motrin.” Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (also called “TEN”) is the most severe form of a skin disorder called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. To understand how devastating the skin injuries that this child suffered were, is challenging. The most accurate way to think of it is to imagine having worst form of sunburn –magnified hundreds of times in severity. Not only did she require months of hospitalization and multiple surgeries, but incredibly and tragically, she lost most of her skin. She also suffered permanent liver and lung damage. Today, she is 16 years old and legally blind. Her life will never be the same.
Currently, the labeling on Children’s Motrin carries an FDA-recommended warning that the drug can cause “a severe allergic reaction,” including “symptoms of hives, facial swelling, rash and blisters.” That is anything but an accurate description of what actual side effects can result from using this product. Worse, drug manufacturers deliberately understate potential side effects all the time. Even when they are required to state them, they do so in the most inconspicuous and innocuous of ways: If in print, they bury it in type so small that almost no one would read it. If in TV and radio advertisements, they read it at the end of the spot in a lowered voice, rapid-fire, staccato manner – akin to the mortgage license numbers that are read at the end of a mortgage company ad. I urge all of you reading this blog post to please read drug labels carefully – even if you are taking a commonplace medication that may “seem” safe. I’ve blogged about drug companies’ advertising before – and it’s outrageous what they try to get away with.
But in this case in Massachusetts, they didn’t get away with it. At the trial, about 24 witnesses testified, which included 20 minutes of testimony from young Miss Reckis herself. The jury awarded her $50 Million and her parents, $6.5 Million each. This past week J&J issued a statement in which the company said it sympathized with the family but – predictably – that it disagreed with the verdict and is “considering its legal options.”
If you have suffered a personal injury due to taking a household drug, I urge you to not dismiss it as unimportant before consulting an experienced Boston, Massachusetts product liability attorney.
This case and verdict is not only a warning to businesses to produce safer products for American consumers, but a glaring lesson on how and why “tort reform” is such a bad idea: If you aren’t familiar with the subject of “tort reform,” click here, where you can read my prior posts on this subject. If “tort reform” existed in Massachusetts, this case would have either been outright banned from the courts, or if it were still allowed, the damages would have been capped at an amount so low that it would shock the conscience: Perhaps $500,000 – maximum – to pay for this young girl’s suffering, for the rest of her life. That’s a shockingly low amount for a big business to pay to compensate someone so horribly injured by their product.
So the next time you hear the words “tort reform,” think of the injustice that would have been done in this case, and many others, if these draconian measures were enacted. And if you want to see even more compelling stories of how unjust an idea “tort reform” really is, rent or order the HBO documentary “Hot Coffee.” You’ll be shocked at what you learn is the truth behind Big Insurance’s campaign to dismantle this country’s civil justice system.
Many people think that justice can’t be achieved when going up against Big Business and corporate America. But this case shows that it can — as long as the civil justice system in this country — and your legal rights to that system — aren’t dismantled by Big Insurance.