Samantha Reckis and her father were boarding a plane Friday morning — bound for their first vacation in the 11 years since an allergic reaction to Motrin nearly killed her — when they learned that Massachusetts’ highest court had upheld a $63 million judgment against the maker of the pain reliever, her attorney said.
“She just kind of squealed,” said lawyer Bradley M. Henry, who spoke to Rick Reckis as he and Samantha, 18, of Plymouth, awaited a flight to Florida.
The Supreme Judicial Court ruling affirmed a Plymouth County jury’s 2013 judgment against Johnson & Johnson, which Samantha’s lawyers argued had failed to adequately warn patients about potential side effects of the over-the-counter painkiller. Johnson & Johnson had appealed that award.
In a statement Friday, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary that makes Motrin, offered sympathy for the Reckis family but said it “acted appropriately, responsibly, and in the best interests of patients” in labeling its FDA-approved medication.
“It is important to note that Stevens-Johnson syndrome,” a skin disorder, and its most severe form, toxic epidermal necrolysis, which caused 95 percent of the top layer of Samantha’s skin to slough off, are both “very rare conditions, and the specific cause is difficult to ascertain,” McNeil said in its statement. The company said it was reviewing Friday’s ruling.
“Over decades and millions of uses, ibuprofen, the active ingredient in Children’s Motrin, has proven safe and effective when used as directed for the treatment of minor aches, pains and fever,” the company said.
The court disagreed with the three claims on which Johnson & Johnson based its appeal, including its contention that the jury award was excessive.
Justice Margot Botsford’s 54-page decision noted that Samantha had suffered liver and heart failure, a stroke, seizures, and cranial hemorrhage.
“To be sure,” the court said, “Samantha’s parents testified about her remarkable ability to endure these injuries while maintaining a positive outlook and prospects for the future. Samantha herself testified to her belief that she will lead a ‘great life.’ The jury could . . . nevertheless reasonably infer . . . that she will likely experience pain and suffering throughout her life.”
Samantha received the drug in 2003, when she was 7, and suffered side effects that have reduced her lung capacity by about 80 percent and kept her in and out of hospitals ever since, according to Henry, who began working with the Reckis family in 2004.
She has undergone between 75 and 100 surgeries, he said.
“Her life is a life of doctors, and hospitals, and tubes, and tests, and really being unable to breathe,” he said.
Michael B. Bogdanow, another attorney for the family, said that with interest, the award would now be about $130 million.
Johnson & Johnson can petition the US Supreme Court to review the case.
Henry said the award — described in the appeal as “the largest sum ever awarded in an individual personal injury action in Massachusetts” — would allow Samantha to deal more easily with everyday challenges.
“Everything is hard for Sammy, and this might just make some parts of life easier,” he said. “It’s the best that you can do, because you can’t give her back her sight, or her lungs, or her ability to have a child.”Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Martin Finucane can be reached at email@example.com.