Popular retail chains including Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens falsely advertised and promoted products containing acetaminophen (Tylenol) to pregnant woman, knowing all the while that the drug is dangerous for developing babies in the womb – as well as their mothers.
This is the claim of hundreds – and soon to be thousands – of lawsuits filed against both retailers and manufacturers of acetaminophen, a common pain drug linked to attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
According to attorney W. Mark Lanier, the lawsuits represent “some of the most important health litigation pending in the United States right now,” particularly as autism and mental health development issues “touch a huge number of Americans.”
“We believe the science indicates that taking Tylenol can cause many of these problems, period,” Lanier told The Defender. “We think the science backs this up, we think the biology backs it up, and we are eager to prove that in a court.”
(Related: Learn more about why Tylenol is toxic to children.)
Lanier says the goal is not to remove Tylenol from the market, but rather to put a proper warning on it so doctors and expectant mothers are able to “make an intelligent decision of what risks they will expose their child to during pregnancy.”
Senior U.S. District Judge Denise Cote has already been appointed by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to oversee the lawsuits, which are growing in number by the day. All of them are being transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Last month, Judge Cote appointed a special master to preside over all federal claims involving Tylenol, autism, and ADHD.
In addition to the aforementioned retailers, other defendants include Johnson & Johnson (J&J), which is accused of encouraging acetaminophen use during pregnancy.
Besides Tylenol, Alka-Seltzer Plus, DayQuil, Excedrin, Goody’s, Mucinex, NyQuil, Robitussin, and various generic and store-brand equivalents are all included as drugs that contain acetaminophen.
Since the 1950s, acetaminophen and all the products that contain it have been labeled as safe for pregnant women despite a plethora of peer-reviewed studies showing that the drug is dangerous both for unborn children and for pregnant women.
The lawsuits will cover affected children under the age of 15 who were diagnosed with ASD between the ages of 1 and 10, as well as children under the age of 15 who were diagnosed with ADHD between the ages of 8 and 14.
“I think at this point we’re in the hundreds that have been filed,” Lanier said about the current tally of suits. “I think when all is said and done, we’ll be talking about thousands, tens of thousands.”
While the ASD and ADHD lawsuits will proceed separately from one another, their consolidation into MDL means that “coordinated discovery into issues that are common to all claims” will occur.
Judge Cote is also likely to establish a “bellwether” process whereby “a group of representative claims will be prepared for early trial dates, to help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony about the link between Tylenol and autism that will be repeated throughout the claims.”
While the outcome of the “bellwether” cases will not directly impact any of the other individual cases, what they could still do is impact the average settlement amount to be awarded for all the others. However, if the “bellwether” cases do not reach a settlement, then Judge Cote could remand them to the U.S. District Courts for trial.
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