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JURY TO DECIDE WHETHER MOTRIN CAUSED GIRL'S BLINDNESS.

Byline: Susan Abram

Staff Writer

MALIBU -- The medicine was supposed to take Sabrina Brierton Johnson's fever away.

Instead, she went blind, a rash inflamed her skin and sores grew on her lips.

Now a Los Angeles County jury is expected to decide whether the Topanga Canyon girl's illness was caused by a dose of Children's Motrin given to her by her mother in 2003, or whether she had a pre-existing medical condition that led her to suffer from a rare, debilitating disease that causes loss of vision and skin to peel off.

During opening statements at the Malibu Courthouse on Tuesday, attorneys for Sabrina, now 11, and her parents charged that Johnson & Johnson, makers of Children's Motrin, failed to present adequate warnings on its packaging label detailing the extent of possible side effects, including Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

"When (Johnson & Johnson) got approval of this drug, they spent millions and millions in marketing," said the family's attorney, Daniel Balaban. "They marketed it in the most deceitful way. They never let on that this drug had the most serious risks. ... There's nothing on the label to let a mother or a father or a doctor or a nurse know there was a serious risk of Stevens-Johnson syndrome."

But attorneys for Johnson & Johnson plan to argue that when Children's Motrin was approved for over- the-counter use in 1995, the federal Food and Drug Administration knew about any possible side effects, and that Stevens-Johnson syndrome rarely occurs. And, attorneys said, the FDA also asked the company to remove some wording on the warning label several years ago, saying it was too much detail for the average consumer.

'One of the safest drugs'

The current language on the box includes a warning that the drug could cause severe allergic reactions, which can include hives, asthma and facial swelling.

"This is one of the safest drugs on the market," Johnson & Johnson attorney Thomas Pulliam said. "There has been millions of doses sold. What we know is, this likely had nothing to do with Sabrina's injuries."

In a complaint filed against Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, McNeil Consumer, Sabrina's parents say they gave their child a dose of Children's Motrin in September 2003, when she complained of feeling ill. Hours later, when her fever didn't go away, she was given another dose.

The next morning, Sabrina, who was 6 at the time, awoke with a high fever, a pink color in her eyes and a swollen mouth covered in sores, according to the complaint. She was hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The next day, she was blind in both eyes.

She was subsequently diagnosed by a pediatrician with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare disorder of the skin and mucous membranes that can cause painful rashes and skin to fall off.

Pre-existing condition?

But the trial is expected to include a debate over whether Sabrina's illness was caused by the ibuprofen in Children's Motrin, and whether she is indeed suffering from Stevens-Johnson syndrome and not another disease brought on by the child's pre-existing medical condition.

In medical records shown by attorneys for Johnson & Johnson, Sabrina was given Children's Motrin at least 10 times before, and no adverse reaction was reported.

Since she was diagnosed, Sabrina has undergone about 20 surgical procedures and countless hospitalizations.

Photographs of the child displayed in court show her eyes closed and her eyelids and cheeks red.

Attorneys on both sides plan to bring medical experts and witnesses from across the nation to discuss Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

Sabrina's attorneys are hoping the company will change the warning labels to include the possibility of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, but would not say how much in damages they are seeking.

The trial is expected to last six weeks.

susan.abram@dailynews.com

818-713-3664

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Sabrina Brierton Johnson was given Children's Motrin for a fever.

(2) In 2003, a day after being given doses of Children's Motrin, Sabrina Brierton Johnson, then 6, had a severe rash and a swollen mouth covered in sores. The next day, she was blind. Her family blames Johnson & Johnson, maker of the drug.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 18, 2008
Words:685
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