Centralizations of Tylenol Liver Injury Lawsuits Sought in N.J. State Court

As the number Tylenol lawsuits brought in the New Jersey state court system continues to mount, Johnson & Johnson has filed a request to centralize all liver injury cases before one judge for coordinated proceedings, as part of an MCL or Multi-County Litigation.

At least 14 lawsuits have been brought in New Jersey courts by individuals who allege that they suffered liver damage or liver failure from side effects of Tylenol, and the number of cases is expected to continue to mount.

According to a request (PDF) made by lawyers for Johnson & Johnson on April 22, the drug maker is seeking to establish centralized management for the cases before one judge in Middlesex County, indicating that it will help “avoid duplicative discovery and inconsistent rulings, and to conserve judicial resources and promote the interests of justice” while the matters remain at an early stage in the litigation process.

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The request comes about one month after all Tylenol liver injury lawsuits filed in the federal court system were consolidated before Judge Lawrence Stengel in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, as part of an MDL or multidistrict litigation.

At the time the federal Tylenol litigation was centralized on April 1, there were 27 different lawsuits involving Tylenol and liver damage pending in federal courts throughout the country. However, Johnson & Johnson indicates that at least another 33 lawsuits have been identified in weeks after the cases were consolidated.

According to a Notice to the Bar (PDF) posted by the Acting Administrative Director of the New Jersey Courts on May 10, anyone wishing to comment on or object to the application should provide such comments or objections in writing before June 10, 2013.

Tylenol and Liver Injury

Tylenol is one of the most widely used over-the-counsel painkillers in the United States, containing acetaminophen as the active pharmaceutical ingredient.

The lawsuits allege that Johnson & Johnson and their McNeil-PPC, Inc. subsidiary failed to adequately warn consumers about the risk of liver damage from Tylenol.

Acetaminophen overdose is one of the leading causes of liver failure in the United States, resulting in an estimated 50,000 emergency room visits, 25,000 hospitalizations and over 450 deaths annually, according to federal health officials.  In a 2002, an FDA advisory committee found that there were between 1,000 and 2,000 acetaminophen-induced liver failures each year.

In July 2011, Johnson & Johnson 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.

Johnson & Johnson’s McNeil-PPC subsidiary is headquartered in Skillman, New Jersey, leading the drug maker to speculate that additional lawsuits will be filed in the state and that there will be geographical disbursement of the parties in cases, leading to the need for centralized management.

Johnson & Johnson Opposed MDL for Federal Tylenol Litigation

Although Johnson & Johnson initiated the request to centralized the New Jersey litigation, the drug maker actually opposed the formation of a Tylenol MDL in the federal court system, suggesting that the consolidated proceedings were not warranted or justified, even though there were nearly two times the number of cases pending in federal courts.

The drug maker argued that the Tylenol warning label has provided information about the potential risk of liver damage caused by acetaminophen since at least 2005, and maintained that consolidating the cases in federal court was inappropriate because the cases will center on the individual facts of each case, such a whether the plaintiffs took Tylenol, how much they took, and whether they had other problems that could have caused liver failure.

Following a hearing before the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in late March, the federal Tylenol litigation was centralized for pretrial proceedings before Judge Stengel, who has scheduled an initial conference for May 21, to address matters relating to the organizational structure of the MDL and discovery proceedings in the cases.

Although the cases have been centralized for pretrial litigation, if Tylenol liver injury settlement agreements or other resolutions are not reached during the MDL, each individual lawsuit may be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for trial.


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