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Motion Filed to Consolidate Tylenol Liver Failure Lawsuits in MDL

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As a growing number of product liability lawsuits are filed alleging that plaintiffs suffered liver failure from Tylenol side effects, a request has been filed to centralize all federal cases before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation. 

Johnson & Johnson faces at least 28 Tylenol liver failure lawsuits filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country. While the vast majority of them are already pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, there are at least seven other cases pending in different federal courts.

All of the complaints involve common allegations that Johnson & Johnson, and it’s subsidiary McNeil Healthcare, sold Tylenol without adequately warning doctors or patients of the risks of liver damage from acetaminophen, the active ingredient found in Tylenol and many other pain medications.

Tylenol MDL Motion

In a motion (PDF) filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) on January 17, plaintiff Lucky T. Pettersen asked that all complaints filed in federal courts throughout the country be centralized in Pennsylvania to reduce duplicative discovery, eliminate conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges and to increase judicial efficiencies.

Pettersen identified at least 28 different complaints that were potential “tag along” actions, which the motion indicates involve common allegations of fact and law. All of the cases have been filed over the past year, and it is expected that the litigation will increase in size over the coming year, as Tylenol injury lawyers are continuing to evaluate and file new cases for individuals diagnosed with liver failure or liver damage.

If the cases are consolidated for pretrial procedings, they will be handled in a manner similar to how a Tylenol class action lawsuit would be managed to coordinate discovery and other issues common to all claims. However, the complaints would still remain individual actions, where each plaintiff must establish that the painkiller was defective and the cause of an injury.

If an agreement to settle the Tylenol cases is not reached following pretrial proceedings and any potential “bellwether” trials, each claim would ultimately be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was initially filed for trial.

Lawsuits Allege Failure to Warn About Risk of Tylenol Liver Failure

A number of studies have shown links between Tylenol and liver failure.

In 1986, acetaminophen was found to be amplified in people with depleted levels of an enzyme known as glutathione, increasing the risk of liver failure. Then, in 1993, studies indicated that acetaminophen liver failure risk was dose dependent and could also be increased by fasting. This was followed by a 1994 label warning indicating that alcohol use also increased the risks of liver failure.

The FDA has indicated that acetaminophen overdose is a leading cause of liver failure in the U.S., resulting in more than 50,000 emergency room visits, 25,000 hospitalizations and over 450 deaths annually. In a 2002 FDA advisory committee meeting, experts found that there were between 1,000 and 2,000 acetaminophen-induced liver failures each year.

In recent years, efforts have been ramped up to bring acetaminophen overdose side effects to the public’s attention and to reduce the amount of liver failure cases linked to the popular analgesic, which is also found in other pain killers and a number of cold medications.

In July 2011, McNeil announced that it was lowering the maximum recommended dosage on Tylenol and other acetaminophen-based products from 4,000 mg per day to 3,000 mg per day. The decision came after the FDA announced new limits on acetaminophen levels in prescription painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet. But over-the-counter painkillers and drugs with acetaminophen went unaffected.

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