The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Tylenol lawsuits has scheduled the first bellwether trial to begin in June, involving a wrongful death claim brought by the family of a woman who allegedly suffered liver failure from the popular pain medication.
In a case management order (PDF) issued on January 29, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel indicated that a lawsuit filed by Rana Terry will go before a federal jury on June 22, 2015.
The case will serve as the first in a series of “bellwether” trials involving Tylenol, which are designed to help gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be repeated throughout the 163 other similar claims pending against Johnson & Johnson and their McNeil Healthcare subsidiary in the federal court system.
All of the complaints involve nearly identical allegations that the drug maker knew or should have known that side effects of Tylenol increase the risk of liver damage, yet withheld warnings from consumers and the medical community for decades.
Since April 2013, all liver failure lawsuits involving Tylenol filed throughout the federal court system have been centralized before Judge Stengel in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation. Judge Stengel has been presiding over coordinated pretrial proceedings 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.
A small group of Tylenol bellwether trials are planned in the MDL, as part of the coodinated pretrial proceedings.
While the outcomes of these trials will not be binding on other lawsuits, if Johnson & Johnson fails to reach Tylenol settlements in the liver failure cases following the bellwether trials, or otherwise resolve a large portion of the litigation, dozens of individual cases may be remanded back to U.S. District Courts throughout the country for individual trial dates.
Tylenol Liver Failure Risk
The liver failure lawsuit filed by Rana Terry involves the death of her sister, Denice Hayes, who experienced problems after taking Extra Strength Tylenol for about one week in August 2010. Hayes developed acute liver failure following use of Extra Strength Tylenol and died a few days later.
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.
Similar to other complaints pending in the Tylenol litigation, Terry alleges that Johnson & Johnson built a reputation that Tylenol 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 death or the need for a liver transplant.
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.
Most of the lawsuits pending before Judge Stengel were filed after Johnson & Johnson decided to lower the recommended maximum daily dosage for Tylenol in 2011, indicating that users should not take more than 3,000 mg per day, or 6 tablets of Extra Strength Tylenol every 24 hours. Previously the drug maker recommended the use of up to 4,000 mg per day, which research has established provides a very narrow margin before users face a serious risk of liver damage or liver failure.
Lawsuits filed by Terry and others allege that Johnson & Johnson has withheld important safety information about the liver risks with Tylenol from the public for decades.