Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is a disease that impacts the skin and mucous membranes. While the disease is very rare, it is also extremely dangerous and is life-threatening. Numerous medications that are available on the market today have the potential to cause Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. Stevens Johnson Syndrome results from severe reaction to certain over the counter medications such as:
- Ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin)
There is no one common denominator among the list of medications that can cause Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. However, the manufacturers of medications may be found liable when a patient’s disease has been proven to have been caused by their medications. If you or or a loved one has contracted Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and believe that it has been caused by defective medication, you should promptly contact an attorney to discuss your case.
There is a long list of drugs that have the potential to cause Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. Many of these medications are available over-the-counter and do not require a prescription from a doctor. Even medications that seem harmless and innocuous have the potential to cause this dangerous disease.
What is Stevens-Johnson Syndrome?
Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is not a disease that is known to many Americans. Many Americans recognize the name of basketball star Manute Bol, who died at the age of 47. The cause of his death was Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. Bol contracted the disease from a reaction to medication that was administered when he was visiting his homeland of Sudan.
Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is essentially when a patient’s body burns from the inside out and is an incredibly dangerous sickness. The illness will typically begin with flu-like symptoms and will cause patients to run a fever. Since the disease starts like the flu, it is often difficult to correctly diagnose Stevens-Johnson Syndrome at first. Once the disease progresses, patients will develop a rash and their skin will begin to blister. This will result in raw and festering areas on the patient’s skin. At this point, it will become apparent to a doctor that the patient has Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. If more than ten percent of the skin is affected, the patient has toxic epidermal necrolysis, which has a much higher fatality rate.
If the disease progresses, patients can experience multiple organ failure or sepsis. Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is fatal in 5-10% of its cases. If treatment is administered early, then patients have a better chance of survival. There are various different courses of treatment for Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. A patient’s particular treatment will depend both on the doctor and the symptoms that the patient is manifesting. Recovery from the disease is a long and difficult process. The treatment and recovery mirrors treatment for burns since there is a similar impact on the skin. In some instances, patients may never fully heal and may experience long-term complications and symptoms from the disease including itching and skin dryness.
Which Medications Can Cause Stevens-Johnson Syndrome?
The list of medications that have been linked with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is long. Up to 200 medications have been known to have caused this disease in patients. Sometimes, the patient can have a predisposition to the disease, either through family history or some other previous infection. In many occurrences, however, the adverse reaction simply just happens. The Stevens-Johnson Syndrome Foundation publishes a list of medications that have been connected to the disease, but any medicine can cause a reaction. Sulfonamides have been most commonly associated with the disease. These are medications that are used to treat bacterial infections.
Currently, drug labels do not specifically warn of the possibility of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. In 2017, the FDA did recommend that over-the-counter acetaminophen-containing drugs could cause severe skin reactions. That, however, is not a direct warning of this particular disease.
Although Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is very rare, the damage from the disease is extensive. Those who have contracted the disease and survive have likely incurred large medical expenses and missed extensive time at work. Some may have long-term disabilities that require expensive care and may impact one’s ability to work. In addition, patients may experience permanent scarring since the disease acts in a manner similar to burns.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol®)
- Carbamazepine (mood stabilizers such as Tegretol®)
- Celebrex® or other Cox-2 inhibitors
- Dilantin® and Phenytoin®
- Ibuprofen (Advil® and Motrin®)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Daypro®, etc.)
- sulfa antibiotics
Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and Product Liability Lawsuits
Since Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is frequently caused by medication, it follows that it can result from a defect in the particular medication that the patient was taking. As such, patients may have an actionable claim against the maker of the medicine for product liability since the drug that they were selling proved to be dangerous. Since a wide number of medicines have been reported to have been linked to Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, there is no one set body of case law or class action litigation for plaintiffs. Instead, each case proceeds on its own.
Litigation relating to Stevens-Johnson Syndrome may involve lawsuits against either the drug manufacturer or the doctor since the disease is often misdiagnosed at first. In addition, there is also a possible cause of action against the pharmacist because an incorrect dosage or inaccurate instructions can also cause the adverse reaction.
When the lawsuit is against a pharmaceutical company, the plaintiff will typically allege that their reaction to the medicine that caused the Stevens-Johnson Syndrome resulted from a defect in the drug. In addition, the plaintiffs will allege that the manufacturer failed to warn about the risk of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and, had they done so, the plaintiff never would have taken the medication. It is important to know that, when dealing with a product liability lawsuit, anyone can be found liable for the defect including the manufacturer, doctor and pharmacist.
Johnson & Johnson Case
One of the major verdicts in lawsuits related to Stevens-Johnson Syndrome was handed down by a jury against Johnson & Johnson. The company was assessed a verdict of $63 million, which grew to well over $100 million with interest by the time that the case worked its way through the appeals process.
In this particular case, a seven-year old girl was given Children’s Motrin to treat a regular sickness. The girl developed a sore throat and rash, but her parents continued to give her the medicine since they were not warned of the possibility that a patient could develop Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. After an initial incorrect diagnosis, the girl was finally diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. The disease cost the girl her eyesight and she has had to endure a dozen surgeries.
The case focused primarily on Johnson & Johnson’s failure to warn about the dangers of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. Had the company given an adequate warning on its label, either the medication could have been stopped earlier or a more timely diagnosis could have helped the child. Johnson & Johnson claimed that the FDA would not have approved of this warning so the company could not be expected to include this caution on its label. According to Johnson & Johnson, the FDA did not approve a similar request from the company to issue a warning in the past. The Massachusetts Supreme Court held, however, that past FDA decisions did not provide a guidepost for how it would rule in response to this particular potential warning. Johnson & Johnson attempted to appeal the verdict to the United States Supreme Court, but the Court did not decide to hear the appeal.
If you or a loved one have contracted Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, it is vital that you contact an experienced lawyer to have a discussion of your case. The attorney will advise you of the legal process that would be necessary in order to receive compensation. In addition, the attorney will inform you of your chances of a successful case.