California court reverses $48.1 million verdict reversal against Motrin maker, remands for retrial

By Glenn Minnis | Jul 13, 2017

LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) – A California appeals court has reversed a $48.1 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson, the maker of Motrin, after the pain-relieving drug allegedly caused a man’s severe and near fatal skin condition.

Second District Court of Appeal Division Four Judge Robert O’Brien on June 30 deemed part of the original 2011 Christopher Trejo verdict “fatally inconsistent,” ruling part of it was preemptive and another part wrongfully applied the consumer expectation test.

The case has now been remanded for retrial on the claims of negligent and strict liability failure to warn and design defect.

“The court of appeals' decision to reverse the verdict in the lower court reflects the evidence that our Motrin (ibuprofen) medicine is appropriately labeled,” Johnson & Johnson said in a statement to Legal Newsline. “With billions of uses over a span of decades, Motrin has been proven safe and effective when used as directed.”

Trejo filed suit naming Johnson & Johnson and McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals as defendants in 2005.

He alleged he took over-the-counter Motrin sometime that year and soon after began suffering body aches and pains later diagnosed as Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and the more serious variation toxic epidermal necrolysis, which can lead to blistering and skin irritations that can leave one susceptible to life-threatening infections.  

Over time, Trejo’s condition led to pulmonary damage, near blindness and hypoxic brain injury.

In October 2011, a jury awarded him $32 million in damages and nearly $16 million in punitive damages, with jurors noting that over-the-counter versions of Motrin did not list warnings about potential skin reactions on its packaging.  

In rendering its decision, the appeals court countered “there are many different OTC (over-the-counter) ibuprofen products, both generic and brand names, sold by various companies. They all have the same labeling, regardless of manufacturer.”

The Federal Drug Administration approved McNeil’s application to sell ibuprofen in 1994, branding the drug safe and effective for use as recommended.

“We deeply sympathize with the Trejo family and anyone who has been harmed by this extremely rare and devastating skin condition,” Johnson & Johnson added in its statement. 

“We recommend consumers always read and follow the medicine label. If consumers have questions regarding the medicines they are taking, we encourage them to contact their doctor or pharmacist.”

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