As a pharmaceutical liability lawyer, I was interested to see that the federal courts have agreed to consolidate a group of acetaminophen lawsuits as multi-district litigation. Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol. It has come under fire in recent years for causing liver damage in large doses—and being easy to overdose on, because it’s included in so many common medicines, both prescription and over-the-counter. In fact, the FDA in 2011 requested a cap on the strength of acetaminophen because it was concerned about overdoses. The 27 lawsuits being consolidated allege that plaintiffs or their lost family members suffered liver injury from too much of the painkiller. Acetaminophen manufacturers including McNeil/Johnson & Johnson, Novartis and L. Perrigo had argued that the 27 cases didn’t have enough in common to merit consolidation, but the Judicial Panel that oversees MDL apparently disagreed.
Liver damage and, in extreme cases, liver failure is a known side effect of taking too much acetaminophen. The warning labels for over-the-counter drugs that include acetaminophen must explain this to patients. Unfortunately, over-the-counter acetaminophen sometimes carries instructions to take such a high dose that even using it as directed could put the patient in danger. To make matters worse, because acetaminophen is a common ingredient in cold and flu medicines, some patients unwittingly overdose by mixing cold remedies. And acetaminophen is included in several prescription drugs that combine it with high-abuse-potential painkillers, such as opioids, opening the possibility of an accidental overdose by someone abusing the other painkiller. As a result, a 2005 study found that acetaminophen is the most common cause of liver failure in our country.
The multi-district litigation is a way for judges to resolve all of the acetaminophen liver injury lawsuits in one group—typically a more cost-effective way for both sides to handle it. This is similar to a class-action lawsuit. But unlike a class action, an MDL case permits each plaintiff to retain his or her own case. This is useful when injured people have very different injuries, because compensation appropriate for a family that lost a loved one to liver failure is likely to be different from compensation for someone who survived with liver damage. The acetaminophen MDL was consolidated in Philadelphia federal court, where 21 of the 27 cases had already been filed. Thompson Reuters reported that defendants feel that MDLs are formed to pressure them into a settlement, and the drug makers here argued against consolidation. But according to the article, judges seemed set on consolidation, saying it would be the most efficient way to try the 27 similar claims.
As a dangerous drug attorney, I’m pleased that this case is drawing attention to the threat posed by acetaminophen overdoses. Tylenol and its generic versions are in nearly every medicine cabinet in America. A lot of people believe it’s safe to take more than the recommended dose of an over-the-counter drug because OTC drugs cannot be very strong, but that’s not always true. And apparently, even some of the label instructions on these drugs instruct patients to take very high doses, inviting the possibility that the warning label itself is dangerous and inadequate. It will be interesting to see what the defective drug lawyers working on this litigation say about the resulting injuries to their clients and the fault of the drug makers.
If you were injured by a drug and you believe inadequate warnings or defects in the drug itself are to blame, you should call Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. Based in St. Louis, we represent clients across the United States. For a free consultation, send us a message through our website or call 1-877-678-3400 today.
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