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By: Austin Kirk | Published: September 12th, 2013
As the number of Tylenol cases filed in the federal court system continues to increase, the federal judge presiding over the litigation has called for a “tuturial” day, where the parties will be able to educate the court on the science that will be involved in the cases and provide information about the link between Tylenol and liver failure.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) established coordinated pretrial proceedings for all product liability lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system involving allegations that side effects of Tylenol caused users to suffer liver damage.
Cases filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide are currently centralized before U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for pretrial discovery and any early “bellwether” trials to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation.
Following a teleconference held by Judge Stengel last week, an order (PDF) was issued on September 9, calling for lawyers involved in the litigation to work together to come up with an agenda for a “tutorial day” that will be scheduled to educate the Court on the “basic scientific and regulatory issues in this case.”
A group of lawyers previously assigned to a Plaintiffs Steering Committee and attorneys for Johnson & Johnson have been directed to submit a joint proposal for the content of this tutorial day by the close of business on Friday, September 13, 2013.
Tutorial days or “science days” are not uncommon in pharmaceutical litigation where a judge must become familiar with complex science surrounding a medication or medical condition. Typically, each side has an opportunity to submit information and testimony to the Court for purposes of educating the judge on issues that are likely to arise in the cases.
Tylenol Liver Damage
Tylenol is one of the most widely used painkiller medications in the United States, which has been used by millions of Americans. The medication contains acetaminophen as the active pharmceutical ingredient, which has been identified in recent years as a leading cause for liver failure and liver damage in the United States.
At the time the Tylenol litigation was centralized before Judge Stengel, there were approximately 27 complaints filed throughout the United States. However, according to an updated case list (PDF) released last month by the U.S. JPML, there are now at least 81 complaints centralized in the MDL and it is expected that hundreds, if not thousands, of cases will ultimately be part of the MDL proceedings.
All of the complaints involve similar claims that Johnson & Johnson built an image for their blockbuster medication as safe and effective by withholding important information about the link between Tylenol and liver problems.
The science behind such claims can be complex. While it is generally accepted that acetaminophen can cause liver damage, there will likely be contention over how much is too much, the extent of such damage and other issues that are rooted in scientific interpretation of data.
As part of the coordinated proceedings before Judge Stengel, it is likely that a small group of cases will be prepared for early trial dates, known as “bellwether” trials. The preparation and outcomes of these cases are designed to help facilitate potential Tylenol settlement agreements or another resolution for the litigation.
Similar centralized management was requested in New Jersey state court, where a number of Tylenol liver cases have also been filed since it is where the headquarters are located for Johnson & Johnson’s Ortho-McNeill subsidiary. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied the request last month, meaning that all of the cases in that state are proceeding as individual claims before different judges.