Discovery Plan Issued for Tylenol Injury Lawsuits in MDL

The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Tylenol liver injury lawsuits has issued a preliminary discovery plan for the coordinated pretrial proceedings in the Multidistrict Litigation (MDL).

Earlier this year, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistriction Litigation (JPML) established a Tylenol MDL for all complaints filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide alleging that users suffered liver damage or liver failure following use of Tylenol.

The cases are centralized before U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to reduce duplicative discovery, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and to serve the convenience of the witnesses, parties and courts.

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As the number of Tylenol injury cases in the MDL continues to increase, the organization and structure of the pretrial proceedings are being established. A small group of lawyers have been appointed to serve in leadership roles in the litigation, and Judge Stengel is expected to schedule a tutorial day so that the parties may educate the Court on the science that will be involved in the cases and provide information about the link between Tylenol and liver failure.

On October 1, Judge Stengel issued a Case Management Order (PDF) which establishes the preliminary discovery plan for the Tylenol litigation. While the plan provides no firm dates or projections of when the first Tylenol trials will begin, it lays out the ground rules for generic discovery that applies to all cases, the development of fact sheets to be exchanged between the parties and the coordination of pretrial proceedings with state court actions.

The parties have been ordered to meet within the next 10 days to resolve some existing disputes over the discovery process, including a claim by plaintiff attorneys that Johnson & Johnson has failed to respond adequately to prior discovery requests.

Tylenol Liver Injury Problems

There are currently at least 80 product liability lawsuits pending before Judge Stengel involving claims that side effects of Tylenol caused liver injuries. However, as additional cases are filed throughout the federal court system they will be transferred to the MDL for coordinated pretrial proceedings. It is ultimately expected that hundreds, if not thousands, of cases will be brought alleging that inadequate warnings were provided about the link between Tylenol and liver problems.

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 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.

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 in 2011 after the FDA announced new limits on acetaminophen levels in prescription painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet. 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.

Judge Stengel has scheduled a series of status conferences in the Tylenol MDL through the end of the year, and it is expected that a small group of cases will eventually be selected 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.


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