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Lawsuit: Children's Motrin Caused Blindness

The parents of a 7-year-old girl on Tuesday sued the makers of Children's Motrin (search) and several other companies that distribute the painkiller, claiming their daughter lost her eyesight and suffered other severe side effects after taking the medication.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Sabrina Brierton Johnson (search) of Los Angeles, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages against health care giant Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), subsidiary McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals, and several other firms, including retailers Ralphs Grocery and Albertsons Inc.'s Sav-On pharmacies.

In their lawsuit, Kenneth and Joan Brierton Johnson accuse the defendants of negligence, breach of warranty and of concealing from consumers and doctors potential health risks of taking the flu and pain medication, specifically the risk of developing two disorders — Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (search) and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (search) — which are typically caused by an adverse reaction to a drug or virus.

Sabrina took Children's Motrin drops on Sept. 8, 2003, after she came home from school complaining of a fever. The girl had no known drug allergies, according to the suit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The next morning, she woke up with a high fever and other symptoms, including a pink coloration in her eyes and sores on her mouth. She was hospitalized, but a day later she was blind in both eyes.

Doctors later concluded Sabrina had contracted Stevens-Johnson Syndrome from taking Children's Motrin, according to the lawsuit. Since then, Sabrina has undergone multiple eye surgeries.

"In the name of children everywhere, our family wants Children's Motrin taken off the market until it carries a warning label about the risk of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and describes its symptoms," the girl's mother said in a statement.

The complaint also alleges the companies knew of a connection between the medication and the disorders from their own clinical tests dating back to the late 1980s, and even included warnings of such risks with the drug before it became available without a prescription.

The retailers who sold Children's Motrin and another defendant, Cardinal Health Inc., knew or had reason to know the drug had "design flaws," the lawsuit also claims.

Bonnie Jacobs, a spokeswoman for Fort Washington, Pa.-based McNeil, which manufactures Children's Motrin, said McNeil and Johnson & Johnson were aware of a report that a 7-year-old girl allegedly developed Stevens-Johnson Syndrome after taking the medication.

"As the makers of Children's Motrin products, we are deeply concerned by all matters relating to our products and we are investigating the situation," Jacobs said.

She declined to discuss the case further.

Representatives of Sav-On and pharmaceutical distributor McKesson Corp., also a defendant, declined to comment citing company policy against discussing pending litigation.

Messages left at the offices Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health and Kroger Co.'s Ralphs chain were not immediately returned Tuesday.

A similar lawsuit was filed against the makers of Children's Motrin in March 2003. In that federal lawsuit, filed in San Jose, the parents of a then 9-year-old girl alleged the medication left their daughter unable to see, speak or eat, and accused Johnson & Johnson and McNeil of failing to adequately test the drug for over-the-counter use and to properly warn the public.