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Beyond the Lawsuit We See the Stevens Johnson Syndrome Victim

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Los Angeles, CAIt's been little over a month since the landmark Stevens Johnson Syndrome lawsuit against drug juggernaut Johnson & Johnson and its wholly owned subsidiary McNeil Consumer Healthcare over injuries suffered by the plaintiff after taking Motrin for a week. However, given that US citizens appear to have a hate on for all things establishment right now, such an issue—together with the pain and life-altering issues experienced by an innocent user of a common over-the-counter pain medication—the story still resonates.

A recap: In early October, a jury in Los Angeles returned a verdict in the lawsuit brought by plaintiff Christopher Trejo. Members of the jury in the SJS Ibuprofen lawsuit found in favor of the plaintiff, handing the defendants an overall bill that will likely edge close to $60 million, once pre-judgment interest and costs to which Trejo is entitled is added to the general, specific and punitive damages assessed in the case.

Not only was the verdict record-setting, according to the October 12 issue of Bloomberg News, it's the first verdict in recent memory that has included a punitive award related to Motrin. Specifically, the award included $9,476,220 for the plaintiff's past and future medical expenses, $1,925,000 for loss of future earnings, $21,166,660 for pain and suffering, and $15,625,000 in punitive damages totaling just under $48.2.

Precedent is an important aspect of law. As lawsuits go, now that such a precedent has been established, such a substantial award may not be the last.

However, beyond the headlines and the sheer size of the award, lay the sad reality of a young man for whom life will never be the same again.

Trejo, the plaintiff, was just 16 when he was hospitalized after using Motrin for less than a week. The court heard the plaintiff used the over-the-counter medication as directed. In its judgment, the jury found that there was insufficient documentation on the popular pain medication's label that might have warned Trejo of the risks.

Sadly, the teenager developed Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN), a horrific adverse reaction that not only left him with the equivalent to second- and third-degree burns spanning his entire body, but SJS Ibuprofen also left him almost blind, infertile, scarred and with diminished capacity for hearing, taste, touch, and smell.

Trejo was left with severe pulmonary damage, together with hypoxic brain injury. His life expectancy has been shortened. Evidence was presented at trial that in the view of the surgeon who treated the plaintiff, Trejo's condition was 100 percent attributable to the active ingredient, ibuprofen, contained in Motrin.

Indeed, $48.2 million is a lot of money—and it is not known if the defendant will appeal the verdict in the lawsuit.

However, looking beyond the headlines, we see a scarred 22-year-old who has gone through this hell-on-earth at a time when he might have been dating, celebrating his graduation from high school, and looking forward to university, a career and a promising future.

Instead he remains, in reality, a virtual cripple whose life and future, as alleged by his legal team in the lawsuit, was taken from him.

All for a few doses of a trusted over-the-counter pain medication most people view as completely innocent. A non-issue, akin to popping an aspirin or taking a spoonful of cough syrup.

Bloomberg highlighted the comments of an attorney who noted the incidence of hospitalizations due to SJS and TEN is estimated at 60 million each year in the US alone.

Given the generally held view that early detection and treatment of emerging symptoms can prevent the full onset of Stevens Johnson Syndrome, the finding of malice against the defendant by members of the jury for not including adequate warnings makes Trejo's journey all the more tragic.

For people blessed with their health, a jury award of $48.2 may seem like one heck of a lot of money for any lawsuit.

But for one 22-year-old plaintiff having gone through six years of hell and decades more yet to come, no amount of money is enough. No amount of money can restore a life lost.

For the rest of us, Christopher Trejo is just a name in a headline. But to Christopher Trejo, it is his story. His every day. His reality. And according to a jury, a seemingly innocent over-the-counter medication triggered an allergic reaction Trejo didn't think was possible.

The manufacturer, the jury in the lawsuit found, never bothered to tell him…


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