$21 Mil Awarded in Pharmaceutical Lawsuit Over NSAID


A New Hampshire woman whose prescription pain medication resulted in a diagnosis of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis has won a $21 million dollar settlement from Mutual Pharmaceutical Co.

Karen Bartlett, 51, was prescribed Sulidnac—a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that is marketed by the pharmaceutical giant Merck under the brand name Clinoril—for shoulder pain in January 2005. Just two weeks later, she began to experience skin problems, including red spots on her face, particularly around her eyes. Bartlett also experienced a sensation that she described as feeling like “pebbles” under her eyelids and in her throat. She was admitted to the hospital, her rash worsening, and was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson Syndrom and toxic epidermal necrolysis (SJS-TEN).

SJS-TEN is a potentially fatal disease in which an adverse reaction to a drug causes the patient’s body to burn from the inside out. The mucus membranes are particularly affected, as is the outer layer of skin. Bartlett’s case also involved the burning of her eyes, throat, stomach and lungs, which caused permanent disabilities, including legal blindness.

Bartlett spent over 100 days in five separate hospitals, including the Massachusetts General Hospital Burn Unit, and underwent a total of 12 eye operations to try to regain her sight. Now legally blind, she was escorted in and out of the courtroom by her husband, Greg, during the trial.

Her attorney, Keith Jensen, presented as evidence during the 14-day proceeding photographs, some graphic, of the ulcerated burns on Bartlett’s body and eyes. The jury deliberated for three days before ruling that the Philadelphia-based Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. should have known that Sulidnac was unreasonably dangerous to consumers, and was therefore liable for Bartlett’s injuries.

Sulidnac has the highest reported incidence of SJS-TEN of any NSAID, but remains on the market. In 2005, Mutual amended the warning label on the drug to include possible side effects, including Stevens-Johnson syndrome.

“This drug should not have been on the market when it was prescribed for Mrs. Bartlett and it shouldn’t be on the market now,” said Jensen after the verdict was read.

Bartlett had sought $4.5 million for past and future medical bills and lost earning capacity. Jensen urged the jury to award an additional $20 million to $30 million for pain and suffering and for loss of enjoyment of life. The total verdict, $21 million, represents the highest award in a New Hampshire product liability case, topping the next highest award, which was $13 million awarded in a construction accident case in 1993.


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