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Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) Lawsuit Over Children’s Motrin Goes Before Federal Jury

Trial began this week in a product liability lawsuit filed against Johnson & Johnson over the side effects of Children’s Motrin, which allegedly caused a three year old girl to suffer a debilitating and disfiguring skin reaction, known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS)

The complaint was brought by Kristin and Paul Brown, on behalf of their daughter, Riley Brown, who took Motrin in 2010, when she was three and suffered a severe skin reaction that caused her to lose vision and to require multiple eye surgeries.

The details of the case were laid out in a pre-trial memorandum (PDF) issued on September 2, in advance of opening statements that began this week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is a serious reaction that has been linked to ibuprofen contained in Motrin, as well as several other medications. The condition involves the burning of the skin from the inside out, producing blisters, severe rash and often causing the skin to separate from the body. It also often results in vision loss or blindness.

When the skin lesions affect more than 30% of the body, the condition is typically referred to as toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN). Treatment in a hospital Intensive Care Unit (ICU) or Burn Unit is often required, and the conditions can be fatal in many cases.

The Motrin skin problems are listed as a potential side effect on prescription-strength ibuprofen, but the lower-dose over-the-counter versions marketed as Motrin and Children’s Motrin, do not warn that the drug could cause Stevens-Johnson Syndrome or Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis. In addition, over-the-counter Motrin labels in some other countries do carry such warnings.

The now seven-year old Riley Brown suffered burns over more than 30% of her total body surface area, with the skin falling off of her neck, face, chest, trunk, back, and extremities. She was hospitalized for 25 days as a result of her injuries. The lawsuit claims she continues to suffer from the side effects of Motrin, including skin loss, permanent scarring and disfigurement. She is also functionally blind in her left eye, despite 60 eye surgeries.

Trial began on Tuesday, and is at least the fifth Children’s Motrin SJS lawsuit to go to trial in recent years. In 2011, a jury in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas awarded $10 million to Brianna Maya, who suffered burns over 84% of her body due to a Motrin SJS reaction. The verdict was later upheld on appeal.

That same year, the drug maker was hammered by a Los Angeles jury that awarded more than $48 million to a man diagnosed with SJS after taking Motrin as a teen.

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