Tylenol Liver Damage Lawsuits Date Back to 1994
To fight off the flu, Antonio Benedi took Extra-Strength Tylenol for about three days in 1993. While doing so, he also continued his daily ritual of drinking about three glasses of wine with dinner. In less than a weeks’ time, Benedi’s liver was destroyed, and he went into a coma. A last-minute liver transplant extended his life.
In 1994, Benedi became the first Tylenol user to win a lawsuit against the drug’s maker, Johnson & Johnson subsidiary McNeil Consumer Healthcare, over allegations that the company failed to warn that mixing alcohol with the drug acetaminophen, the generic name for Tylenol, could cause liver damage.
A federal court jury awarded Benedi $8.8 million: $7.855 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. A federal appeals court rejected Johnson & Johnson’s appeal.
The company denies that Tylenol damaged Benedi’s liver and maintains that its advertisements sufficiently warn of the effects of drinking alcohol and taking the drug. It said during the trial that Benedi’s liver was destroyed by a herpes infection, but federal judges said Benedi tested negative for herpes before receiving blood transfusions after his liver transplant.
More Liver Damage Lawsuits Follow
Since the 1994 verdict, hundreds have filed lawsuits alleging that Tylenol use caused their liver damage. By June 2013, some 187 people had filed lawsuits across the country, including at least 14 cases filed in New Jersey, where Johnson & Johnson is headquartered, and 74 cases filed in federal court. As of March 2017, the number of cases filed in federal court had surpassed 230.
Some of the earlier lawsuits were filed by:
2007: Parents of a 1-year-old who died from liver failure after consuming infant Tylenol (resulted in a $5 million verdict)
2012: A woman who suffered from acetaminophen poisoning and liver failure after taking Tylenol as directed for multiple days
2013: A woman who suffered acute liver failure after simultaneously taking both Extra Strength Tylenol and Lortab
Tylenol Lawsuit Claims
For years, the drug’s makers have profited from the drug’s reputation as a fast-acting remedy that’s safe to administer at home without a prescription. Although Johnson & Johnson and McNeil-PPC contend that their product comes with warnings about liver damage, consumers and other critics allege the warnings are not strong enough and do not adequately reflect the full extent of the risk.
People injured by Tylenol claim McNeil and J&J:
- Negligently designed, manufactured and marketed Tylenol.
- Inadequately labeled their product and made a “conscious decision” not to re-label or otherwise inform the “unsuspecting consumer public” of its hazards.
- Misrepresented and over-promoted the safety and effectiveness of Tylenol to fraudulently induce consumers to buy the product.
- Hid information about the product’s hazards from consumers.
- “Recklessly disregarded the fact that Tylenol causes debilitating and potentially lethal side effects.”
- Marketed Tylenol “without disclosing these side effects where there were safer alternative methods for pain relief.”
Lawsuits filed against the companies seek damages for:
physical and emotional suffering
diminished earning capacity
significant financial burden due to extensive medical expenses
loss of consortium for family members
Tylenol Multidistrict Litigation
To streamline pre-trial proceedings, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred all federal Tylenol liver damage lawsuits filed against McNeil to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in April 2013. It chose U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel to oversee the multidistrict litigation (MDL), which was officially named MDL 2436 In Re: Tylenol (Acetaminophen) Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation.
According to the April 1, 2013, transfer order, the actions “involve allegations that over-the-counter (“OTC”) acetaminophen containing products that are marked and sold under its TYLENOL® brand-name caused liver damage, including liver failure, even when taken as directed.”
The panel noted that “centralization will eliminate duplicate discovery; prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings; and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary.”
About 217 actions were pending in the MDL as of March 2017.
Judge Stengel selected the case of Rana Terry v. McNeil-PPC, Inc., et al. as the first bellwether case, or test case, to proceed to trial. The lawsuit claims Tylenol caused the 2010 death of an Alabama woman.
Rana Terry filed the lawsuit in 2012 for the death of her sister, Denice Hayes. Hayes had acute liver failure and died at age 51 from taking Tylenol and Tylenol Extra Strength “at appropriate times and in appropriate amounts,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims:
- Tylenol was defectively designed and sold in “a defective and unreasonably dangerous condition”
- McNeil failed to test and place adequate warnings and instructions
- The drug makers intentionally hid safety issues with Tylenol in order to encourage doctors to recommend the drug
The bellwether trial was initially set for October 26, 2015. It was put on hold following several days of settlement talks.
During the bellwether trial preparation, battles over expert testimony ended in Terry’s favor. In February 2017, McNeil agreed to pay a confidential amount to settle more than 200 Tylenol liver injury lawsuits under the MDL.
McNeil and the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee (PSC) of the Tylenol MDL signed a master settlement agreement on Feb. 10, according to court documents. It reportedly creates a global private settlement program to resolve claims, both filed and unfiled.
Tylenol Case Goes to Trial
In October 2015, a Tylenol liver damage case went to trial and resulted in a win for Johnson & Johnson. A New Jersey jury decided that Regina Jackson, 55, couldn’t prove that she had actually taken Extra Strength Tylenol before she spent a week in the hospital.
Jackson argued that she inadvertently overdosed on the pain medication, resulting in her hospitalization. Her lawsuit claimed Johnson & Johnson improperly designed the drug and that the recommended dosage doesn’t provide enough of a safety margin to protect users from overdose. The jury didn’t rule on the merits of Jackson’s claim that Tylenol was defectively designed, only that she couldn’t prove she took the drug.
Additional Liver Damage Lawsuits
Charlotte Thompson, a Florida woman, sued McNeil-PPC and Johnson & Johnson in state court in February 2012. Thompson took Tylenol for several days before she was taken to the emergency room in February 2008. She experienced severe liver damage and was hospitalized for several days. In addition to severe physical injuries, she has also experienced emotional injury, loss of earning capacity, and significant medical expenses. The lawsuit accuses McNeil and John & Johnson of failing to adequately warn of the risk of liver failure when taking Tylenol while not eating. It also claims the drug was not properly tested.
Kentucky woman Patricia Burdin suffered severe injury, including acute liver failure, after taking Extra Strength Tylenol and Lortab. She took the drugs in the dosages directed by her physician but was admitted to the emergency room with fulminant liver failure in May 2011. She and her husband filed a lawsuit in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in January 2013. Their lawsuit includes her allegations of physical and emotional injuries and economic losses and her husband’s loss of consortium claim. The lawsuit was transferred to the federal MDL.
After taking Tylenol, Tonja Rash was taken to Park Ridge Medical Center’s emergency room in Chattanooga, Tenn., on or about April 20, 2010. She experienced acute liver failure and was transferred to Vanderbilt University Medical Center on April 22. She died that day. Her husband and her father, as executor of her estate, filed a lawsuit against McNeil-PPC and Johnson & Johnson in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in January 2013. Like Burdin’s, this lawsuit was later transferred to the federal MDL.
People have successfully sued Tylenol’s maker for injuries other than liver damage. These settlements include:
Bacteria-contaminated Children's Tylenol
Kindra Robertson sued McNeil, saying her 8-month-old son died after she gave him Children’s Tylenol that had been contaminated with the harmful bacteria Bacillus circulans. Kindra accused McNeil of knowing the bacteria was present in an ingredient used to make the batch of Children's Tylenol. Roberston agreed to settle her claims against McNeil in August 2016. After receiving notice of the settlement, U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice.
McNeil settled a lawsuit in March 2017 filed by a woman who says she developed the serious skin reaction Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) after taking Tylenol and Motrin together. The settlement came just a few hours after the trial jury in the case began deliberating. The FDA has warned about Tylenol’s link to rare, dangerous skin reactions, including SJS, and in 2013, it required manufacturers to include a warning in labels of acetaminophen drug products.
Emily Miller holds five Health Literacy certificates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the University of Florida. She is a member of The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Society for Technical Communication. Emily was diagnosed with a chronic illness as a child and has firsthand experience with many of the topics she writes about as a member of the Drugwatch team. She is an award-winning journalist who has reported on health and legal news for reputable organizations, including the South Florida Sun Sentinel, San Antonio Express-News, UF Health News and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. She draws on her background as both a patient and a journalist to help readers understand complex health and legal topics.