Lawsuit blames J&J quality problems for child's death

A Washington couple is suing Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) over the death of their 2-year-old son, claiming the company didn't do enough to warn patients about quality-control problems with its consumer drugs. The boy died in July 2010, soon after taking a children's Tylenol product that was part of an April 2010 recall, but it's not clear whether the family's bottle was among the recalled lots.

The lawsuit names not only J&J and its McNeil Consumer Healthcare unit, but company officials including CEO Bill Weldon (photo), as well as other firms along the supply chain, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The suit cites internal documents and testimony at a congressional hearing claiming the company knew about defects in its consumer drugs but hid the problems, Courthouse News Service says. It specifically mentions a so-called "phantom recall" in which the company allegedly hired contractors to buy potentially defective pills from retail outlets. J&J later conducted a formal recall of the Motrin product.

"Johnson & Johnson makes statements about their credo of putting patients first, but it's simply not true," attorney Joseph Messa, whose firm represents the family, told the paper. "It is lip service, a marketing tool to tell the public and shareholders how wonderful they are."

But J&J points out that the major children's drug recall in spring 2010 was widely publicized, and that the recalled drugs weren't linked to any serious side effects. "When McNeil Consumer Healthcare initiated several recalls for children's products in 2010, it communicated that information to the FDA, consumers, retailers and health care professionals," the company said in a statement (as quoted by the Inquirer). "There were various reasons for those recalls, but they were not related to serious adverse events, as alleged in this suit."

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