Tylenol Lawsuit Bellwether Deadlines in MDL Pushed Back 90 Days

The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Tylenol liver damage lawsuits has pushed back the pretrial schedule for the bellwether cases by about three months, meaning that the first trials will likely not begin until well into 2015.

There are currently at least 140 product liability lawsuits pending against Johnson & Johnson in the federal court system, which all involve similar allegations that the drug maker failed to adequately warn about the risk of liver damage and liver failure that may be caused by side effects of Tylenol.

Since April 2013, the cases have been centralized before U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, to reduce duplicative discovery 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 Tylenol litigation, a small group of cases are going through case-specific discovery to prepare them for early trial dates, known as “bellwether” cases. Although the outcomes of these early trials are not binding in other cases, they are designed to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that may be introduced, promoting potential Tylenol settlement agreements that may avoid the need to schedule dozens of cases for individual trial dates.

In a revised a previous case management order (PDF) issued on July 23, Judge Stengel pushed back the deadline for case-specific discovery in the cases to November 1, which was originally set to be completed by August 1.

The deadline for each party to suggest one case from the eligible pool to be considered for the first Tylenol bellwether trial in the MDL has also been pushed back about 90 days, to December 1, 2014.

Following the designation of the trial cases, the parties have been directed to meet and attempt to agree on a pretrial schedule for remaining discovery in the two cases, including deadlines for expert discovery, dispositive motions, and expert witness challenges. If the parties are unable to agree, Judge Stengel has directed the parties to submit their respective positions by January 6, 2015.

The extension of deadlines set in an original bellwether trial schedule issued in an October 2013 case management order likely mean that the first Tylenol trials will not go before a jury until late 2016.

Tylenol Liver Damage 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 acetaminophen 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 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.


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