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Local Law Firm Takes on Drug Giant

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

December 29 -- The Santa Monica law firm suing the City in the Farmers Market tragedy took pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson to court Tuesday, claiming its over-the-counter pain relief medication for children can induce an allergic reaction leading to blindness.

Filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by Greene, Broillet, Panish & Wheeler, the suit claims the drug manufacturer and its subsidiaries ignored Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests conducted in the late 1980's that suggested Children's Motrin was a danger to consumers.

The suit, which was filed on behalf of seven-year-old girl Sabrina Brierton Johnson and her family, charges the girl was struck blind after suffering an allergic reaction -- known as the Steven's Johnson Syndrome - that was allegedly induced after taking the fever-reducing drug.

"Johnson & Johnson made a reckless, callous decision when it decided not to tell the public that Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is one of the adverse side-effects of taking Children's Motrin," said Kenneth Johnson, attorney for the family.

A representative of Johnson and Johnson said Tuesday the company is "aware of the situation" and is "deeply concerned" by all matters concerning its products.

The company, said spokesperson Bonnie Jacobs, is "investigating the situation."

But attorneys for the plaintiffs are calling for swifter action by the company.

"This lawsuit is the only warning label that the public is going to get until Johnson & Johnson re-labels Children's Motrin, so that it carries a warning about the dangers of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome," said plaintiff's attorney Browne Greene.

"We hope that families around the world will take heed and toss out any Children's Motrin that's in their medicine cabinets and demand that stores pull it off their shelves," he said.

The suit alleges that in September 2003 Sabrina was hospitalized with a high fever, a redness of the sclera (commonly known as the white of the eye), a sore throat and a rash covering her back, trunk and other parts of her body after her parents gave her Children's Motrin in accordance with the instructions on the package.

Two months later, the suit alleges, Sabrina was completely blind. It was later discovered that she suffered a severe, adverse skin reaction known as Stevens-Johnson Syndrome as a result of taking the over-the-counter drug, the plaintiff's attorneys said.

Sabrina continues to have ongoing medical problems, including photosensitivity, and is unable to independently open her eyes, according to the attorneys. She has had nearly 20 eye surgeries in a continued effort to restore her vision.

"Had there been appropriate warnings on the Children's Motrin that we gave Sabrina, we would have known what to look for and would have known to stop giving her the drug and call a doctor," said Joan Brierton Johnson, Sabrina's mother.

"Johnson & Johnson and the other Defendants never gave us that opportunity, and our precious little girl now lives literally and figuratively in the dark," she said.

Considered one of the nation's leading plaintiff's firms, Greene, Broillet, Panish & Wheeler won the highest product liability verdict in history when six burn victims received $4.9 billion from General Motors in 1999 after the car they were in burst into flames.
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