Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Upholds Jury Award to Injured Child Harmed from Overdose of Motrin

In Massachusetts, the manufacturer of a product can be held strictly liable if the product was dangerous or defective enough to cause personal injury or death. With most personal injury cases, the injured party must show they were hurt by the negligent acts of another party. In strict liability cases, no fault or tortious intent needs to be shown. Strict liability exists if the product design was defective, the manufacturing process was defective, or the product had inadequate warnings or instructions advising of its correct use.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently dealt with inadequate warnings on a Children’s Motrin bottle in Reckis v. Johnson & Johnson (SJC-11677). In this case, a seven-year-old girl developed a life-threatening skin disorder, toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN), after she consumed several doses of Children’s Motrin, an over-the-counter medication with the main ingredient of ibuprofen. The parents of the child filed a claim and won at the jury trial, where they were awarded general damages over $50 million to the child and loss of consortium damages of $6.5 million for each parent. The parent company and manufacturers that produce Children’s Motrin immediately filed an appeal, alleging they should have received a judgment as a matter of law due to pre-emption by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) laws, an unqualified expert witness for the injured child, and grossly excessive awards that were unsupported by the record. After hearing all arguments, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the lower appellate and trial court jury award to the injured child and her parents.

The child developed redness and a rash on her chest and neck with a sore throat after her father had given her two doses, eight hours apart, for her fever and sinus congestion. The third dose was administered by her father after she woke up with the rash and redness, but he stated if the instructions warned against additional doses at the risk of developing a life-threatening disease he would not have given her additional medicine. On the way to see the pediatrician, the child had a fever, congestion, crusty eyes, cracked lips, and a rash. The pediatrician thought that the child had the measles and advised the parents to give the child the Motrin three times a day. The mother also read the label and later testified that she would not have given the girl more medicine if there had been warnings to its potential life-threatening effects.

The child then suffered a series of horrifying physical traumas as a result. A large portion of her skin died and sloughed off, she experienced heart and liver failure, she had to undergo brain surgery, she had to be placed in a medically-induced coma to ease her pain, and she became addicted to pain medicine and suffered withdrawals as she was weaned off. Following her release from the hospital, oxygen had to be administered, and she had to eat through a feeding tube for two years. The child remained severely underweight for the next several years and had to be hospitalized several times. As a result of the medical traumas, she remains at great risk for additional hospitalizations, eye complications, lowered lung capacity, and the inability to function independently.

At trial, the injured child’s medical expert testified that the ibuprofen caused the TEN, as well as several doctors who treated the child over the course of her extensive hospitalization. The defendants’ experts claimed the opposite: that the ibuprofen did not cause the TEN. The SJC rejected the defendants’ appellate arguments, looking to case law that allows states to regulate strict liability and is not considered to be pre-empted by any FDA regulation. The court also felt that the expert witness was qualified to testify and that the damages, given the injured girl’s extensive injuries and the likely future reliance on her parents, justified the amount awarded.

The attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the extensive litigation experience that you need with your Massachusetts personal injury claim. Our seasoned attorneys are available for a free, confidential consultation at 508-822-6600.

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