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Bellwether Trials Pushed Back in Tylenol MDL

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On April 1, 2013, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated all federal Tylenol lawsuits into one court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The panel ruled that all cases shared common matters of fact, and that handling them together would be more efficient for all parties involved.

Over 100 cases are currently pending, filed by plaintiffs who claim manufacturer Johnson & Johnson (J&J) did not provide adequate warnings about the drug’s potential to cause liver damage. A case management order issued in October 2013 indicated that the first bellwether trials could be held at the end of 2014 or at the beginning of 2015. A more recent order, however, shows that U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel has pushed back several key dates, which means that the first bellwether trials will now likely be pushed back, as well.

Judge Pushes Deadlines Back

According to the October 2013 case management order, both parties were to select three cases (for a total of six) to be eligible for the trial pool by April 1, 2014. Case-specific discovery on these was then to be completed between May and August 1, 2014, with each party presenting one case as a candidate for the first bellwether trial by September 1, 2014.

A revised case management order issued July 23, 2014, however, changed these dates. Now, the case discovery is to be completed November 3, 2014. Each party is to present its one case to the court by December 1, 2014.

Once the cases are presented, the parties must meet and determine a pretrial schedule for things like discovery, expert witness challenges, and dispositive motions. If the parties are unable to agree on the schedule, the judge has ordered that they submit alternative proposals by January 6, 2015, “or within a time set by the court.”

These changes could delay the first bellwether trials until sometime in 2016.

Acetaminophen Linked to Liver Damage

Taking too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can increase risk of liver damage. The risk was amplified in recent years as manufacturers started including the drug in combination cold and flu products, where consumers were unlikely to understand the specifics of what they were taking.

The FDA required manufacturers of over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers to increase warnings about the safety risks on their products in 2009. In 2011, they limited doses of the drug to no more than 325 mg, and then in January 2014, advised doctors to avoid prescribing medications with more than 325 mg of the drug. Most recently, in May 2014, the administration warned healthcare providers to discuss the risks with their patients, as there is “no easy way to identify the vulnerable.”

J&J did lower the maximum recommended dosage of their product from 4,000 to 3,000 mg a day in 2011, but plaintiffs maintain that they should have done more to protect the public. Those who suffer severe liver damage as a result of an acetaminophen overdose often end up having to have a liver transplant.