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SJS $10 Million Plaintiff Verdict: Will McNeil Finally Give Up on the Appeals?

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Philadelphia, PALittle Brianna Maya was just three years old when she was given Children’s Motrin. Brianna had come down with a fever, and her mother spooned out doses of the popular over-the-counter (OTC) medication over a period of about four days in 2000. However, it wouldn’t be long before Brianna’s mother began noticing what turned out to be a Stevens Johnson Syndrome rash that soon mushroomed into blisters and lesions that covered about 85 percent of her tiny body.

The three-year-old would eventually be diagnosed with the more serious form of SJS, Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TENS), an aggressive form of the disease. Brianna recovered from TENS and is now 17, but not without lasting issues: the child was left with severe and lasting eye damage.

That didn’t stop the manufacturer of Children’s Motrin, Johnson & Johnson’s McNeil-PPC Inc. subsidiary (McNeil), from vigorously fighting a Stevens Johnson Syndrome lawsuit brought by her parents in the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia County in 2009. In court documents, the plaintiffs alleged they never would have used Children’s Motrin for their daughter’s fever had the packaging been more explicit and had used the word “blisters” on the warning label.

Following a nine-week trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded $10 million in damages. McNeil appealed, and the appellate court, in July of last year, affirmed the lower court’s ruling in the SJS trial. “We observe that the jury found in McNeil’s favor on two of the three claims, including punitive damages, despite plaintiffs’ counsel’s references to McNeil’s size and assets. This would seem to indicate the jury’s verdict was not the product of passion or prejudice,” wrote President Judge Emeritus Kate Ford Elliott, in her July 2014 opinion.

McNeil kept going, asking the Pennsylvania Superior Court to rehear the case, which in September of last year refused to again hear the case, and didn’t buy into McNeil’s assertions that there was no evidence that an omission on the warning label of the OTC drug had led to the injuries suffered by Brianna Maya.

Undaunted, McNeil petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to hear an appeal of the $10 million verdict finding for the plaintiff in the Stevens Johnson Syndrome case.

Last month, the Court rejected McNeil’s petition.

The three-year-old tot, now a teen, was originally taken to a hospital in Tennessee with Stevens Johnson Syndrome rash before being transferred to a Texas burn unit with lesions and blisters covering 84.5 percent of her body. Maya’s SJS attorney noted that McNeil, in its appeal, never challenged that Motrin is capable of causing SJS or TEN.

McNeil has always held that labeling for Children’s Motrin is sufficient. At the time of the Superior Court’s initial ruling, the company said that it “deeply sympathize[d] with the Maya family and what they have been through,” given the child’s Stevens Johnson syndrome symptoms, and TEN.

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