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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Upholds $63 Million Verdict Against Manufacturer of Children’s Motrin – Reckis v. Johnson & Johnson

pills and water

Medications are supposed to help, not hurt, those who take them. Unfortunately, this is not always so. In the case of Reckis v. Johnson & Johnson, the parents of a young girl gave her what they believed was a safe, over-the-counter medicine, but she almost died as a result.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a child who developed a rare, life-threatening skin disorder (toxic epidermal necrolysis, also known as “TEN”) after she received multiple doses of Children’s Motrin in 2003. She was seven years old at the time.

The child and her parents sued the manufacturer of the medication and its parent company, alleging that the child developed TEN from the ibuprofen in the Children’s Motrin and that the warning label on the product was defective because it did not adequately warn consumers of the serious risk of developing a life-threatening disease.

The jury found in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded general damages to the girl and loss of consortium damages to the parents. The defendants filed motions for remittitur, for a new trial, and/or for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The trial judge denied all of the defendants’ motions and entered judgment on the jury’s verdict. The Supreme Judicial Court granted applications for direct appellate review.

The Defendants’ Arguments on Appeal

As grounds for appeal, the defendants argued that they should have received judgment as a matter of law because the plaintiffs’ central claim of failure to warn was preempted by federal law and because the plaintiffs failed to prove causation as a matter of law. They further asserted that the damages awarded to the  plaintiffs were “grossly excessive” and unsupported by the record.

The Decision of the Supreme Judicial Court

The state supreme court affirmed the trial court’s decision in favor of the plaintiffs. In so holding, the court found that the defendants were not entitled to judgment as a matter of law and that the jury’s award of $50 million to the child and $6.5 million to each of the parents was not excessive under the circumstances. The court disagreed with the defendants’ assertion that an alleged conflict preemption defeated the plaintiffs’ claim of failure to warn. It also found that the trial court did not err in finding the testimony of the plaintiffs’ expert to be both admissible and credible.

With regard to the amount of damages, the court noted that the child was hospitalized for six months, lost 95% of the top layer of her skin, had to be placed in a medically induced coma for a month due to the severity of her pain, suffered liver failure, heart failure, a stroke, seizures, and a cranial hemorrhage, had to eat through a feeding tube and have oxygen for two years, was legally blind, and will never be able to bear a child of her own. While the loss of consortium award to the parents was “generous,” the evidence warranted the jury’s finding that their lives have had to be significantly restructured because of their child’s injuries.

If You Believe You May Have a Product Liability Case

If you believe that you or a loved one has been the victim of a dangerous or defective product, you may entitled to seek damages from the responsible parties. The law firm of John C. Manoog, III has handled many product liability lawsuits in the Cape Cod area, and we can review your case to determine whether a cause of action may lie against the manufacturer, distributor, or seller of a product. To schedule an appointment, phone us at (888)262-6664. We offer contingency fee arrangements in most cases so that you do not have to worry about paying legal fees upfront.

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