Tylenol Liver Failure Lawsuit Selected for First Bellwether Trial in MDL

The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Tylenol lawsuits involving liver failure caused by the popular pain medication has selected the case that will serve as the first in a series of “bellwether” trials, designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation.

There are currently at least 165 product liability lawsuits filed in the federal court system against Johnson & Johnson and its McNeil Healthcare subsidiary, which all involve similar allegations that the drug maker has withheld information from consumers and the medical community for decades about the risk of liver damage from Tylenol side effects.

Since April 2013, the litigation has been centralized before U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania as part of a federal MDL, or multidistrict litigation, to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues in the cases, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different judges and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

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As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings, a group of Tylenol bellwether cases are being prepared for early trial dates, which are expected to begin by late 2016. While the outcomes of these trials will not be binding on other lawsuits, they are designed to help the parties gauge the relative strengths and weaknesses of their claims and may facilitate negotiations to settle Tylenol cases to avoid dozens of individual trials being scheduled throughout the country.

Tylenol Bellwether Case

In an Order (PDF) issued December 15, Judge Stengel identified a Tylenol liver failure lawsuit filed by the family of Denice Hayes as the first bellwether case to proceed to trial.

The parties have been directed to submit a proposed pretrial schedule regarding expert discovery, dispositive motions and challenges to the admissibility of expert witness testimony in the case by January 6, 2015.

The case involves a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Rana Terry, as a personal representative and administrator of the estate for her sister, Denice Hayes. The complaint (PDF) was originally filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in 2012, but was later removed to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where it has been centralized with other similar claims as part of the MDL proceedings.

According to the lawsuit, Hayes developed acute liver failure after consuming Extra Strength Tylenol from August 12, 2010 to August 29, 2010, which includes 500 mg of acetaminophen in each tablet. Hayes died as a result of the liver injury on August 31, 2010.

Terry presents claims against Johnson & Johnson and its McNeil Consumer Healthcare subsidiary for strict liability, breach of warranty, failure to warn, designing a defective drug, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, fraud, violating consumer protection laws, fraudulent concealment, loss of consortium, and wrongful death, seeking both punitive and compensatory damages.

Tylenol Liver Failure Risks

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 pharmaceutical ingredient, which has been identified in recent years as a leading cause for liver injury in the United States.

The FDA has indicated that Tylenol and other acetaminophen drugs may be responsible for more than 50,000 emergency room visits each year, including 25,000 hospitalizations and over 450 deaths annually.

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

In 2011, Johnson & Johnson lowered the maximum recommended dosage on Tylenol and other acetaminophen-based products from 4,000 mg per day to 3,000 mg per day. However, the lawsuits allege that the drug maker has withheld important safety information from the public for decades, ignoring the narrow window between the recommended dosage for Extra Strength Tylenol and the risk of liver injury.

All of the Tylenol liver failure lawsuits raise similar allegations that Johnson & Johnson built a reputation that acetaminophen was a safe and effective medications by withholding important safety information about the risk of liver damage, which may have caused individuals throughout the United States to suffer severe liver failure, often resulting in the need for a liver transplant.

Following the trial of a series of bellwether trials in the MDL, if settlements or other resolutions are not reached in the litigation, each of the cases pending before Judge Stengel may be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a separate trial date.

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